Rory McIlroy in race for world No 1 crown
Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood came to the rescue of the World Match Play yesterday, advancing to the weekend and lifting the mood when it seemed all of Arizona was still in mourning for the loss of Tiger Woods.
Tiger's crowd naturally adopted McIlroy, cheering him on to victory over Miguel Angel Jimenez by 3&1.
McIlroy served up a menu of hero shots to send his fans home happy but he also sprinkled his game with some stinker zero shots, too.
McIlroy turned three-up after some dazzling iron play. But for missing twice from under five feet and once from eight feet the 22-year-old third seed would have been out of sight.
The gap twice came back to two early on the back nine, McIlroy twice fluffing chips, but he delivered the final nail in the coffin with another superb approach to the 17th.
McIlroy said: "I hit some really good irons and felt I hit a lot of quality shots, especially coming down the stretch when I needed to. I'm driving the ball really well and that's big positive.
"It's nice to get to the quarter-finals," he said. "I'd like to go a little further. I feel last year was a stepping stone to bigger and better things this year.
"Miguel told me he hopes I go all the way and get number one."
His next opponent is Bae Sang-moon.
Westwood has been enjoying decent support, too, this week but not so much when up against American Nick Watney. Yet Westwood had a plan to keep the crowd quiet. He was after a fast start and got one. "The format dictates you want to get off to a flier," he said. "I suppose you go to the first tee with a more aggressive attitude, attack the pin, and make the putt."
Westwood stepped onto the first tee and smashed his opening drive into the perfect position to attack the pin. Follow that. Watney couldn't. He hooked his drive towards the desert and stared at it for an age resting on his driver like an old man leaning on a walking stick. He looked twitchy, muttering to himself. Westwood puffed out his chest and marched down the fairway like a sergeant major on parade leaving his opponent to scuttle along behind him, playing catch up like a brow-beaten private.
Westwood always seems to be at his best when he is in bully mode. He played Flashman to Watney's Tom Brown and gave the young whippersnapper a jolly good beating by 3&2. It was a friendly beating, though. They chatted about football. The soccer kind, not the NFL version. "He's a Spurs fan, so that may mean he doesn't know a lot about it," Westwood said with a laugh. "He didn't know Nottingham Forest well, which means he really doesn't know a lot about football. I filled him in on the England manager's job." Westwood will now play Martin Laird, who won the all-Scottish tie against Paul Lawrie 3&1.
Another fairway-splitting drive by Westwood at the second hole was followed by another flaky flap by Watney. Westwood raced to two up and Watney trudged to the third tee looking shell-shocked and tired. Beating Woods in the second round had clearly taken its toll. This was his hangover after the party. Watney's patience had all but expired by the time he missed a putt to lose the ninth hole. He stabbed his bag with the butt of his putter and stormed off the green.
Westwood's quest to regain his No 1 world ranking continues and he's three matches away from claiming the best victory of his career and getting his hands on the trophy that has been displayed on a podium, surrounded by red roses, on the first tee all week. However, McIlroy will also fancy going to the top of the rankings with victory here and the pair are scheduled to meet in the semi-finals.
Westwood is looking determined to lay down a marker to prove that he has moved on from the disappointment of his Dubai debacle. And he still hasn't had a beer all year – if you don't count sinking a Watney.