English golf was on the march as Luke Donald, Paul Casey, Oliver Wilson and Ian Poulter all reached the last 16 of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
English golf was on the march in Tucson today as Luke Donald, Paul Casey, Oliver Wilson and Ian Poulter all reached the last 16 of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
Donald had the biggest win, but the best was probably the one achieved by Wilson, who defeated fourth seed Rory McIlroy at the second extra hole.
Late in the second round there was even a chance that second seed Lee Westwood and last man in Ross McGowan would make it six out of six, but Westwood lost 2&1 to American Nick Watney and McGowan, conqueror of top seed Steve Stricker, went down on the last to 18-year-old Japanese star Ryo Ishikawa.
Westwood has still to go beyond this stage in 10 visits to the event and as a result misses the chance to go to world number two for the first time in his career.
Last year’s runner-up Casey, still recovering from the torn rib muscle he suffered last summer after reaching third in the world rankings behind Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, crushed Canadian left-hander Mike Weir 5&4.
But Donald, returning to form following wrist surgery in 2008, went one better than that with a 6&5 drubbing of Australian Robert Allenby.
The 32-year-old, runner-up on the US Tour two weeks ago, had opened with an eight-birdie victory over Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell and commented: “(It was) another solid day.
“Five birdies, no bogeys. I picked off the par-fives and Robert didn’t quite have his game. He didn’t put too much pressure on me.
“I’m drawing on the confidence of the last few weeks. This is my fourth in a row, so to finish as quickly as possible is good for me.”
Donald was inevitably asked about the Tiger Woods situation.
Other players, most notably Ernie Els, have criticised the world number one choosing the middle day of this event tomorrow to make a statement about his future in Florida, but Donald steered clear of the issue.
“I’m not really thinking about it – I’m just concentrating on myself,” said the soon-to-be father.
“Tiger’s not here and it’s irrelevant to waste energy on that. Hopefully the focus can come back to the tournament – I suppose he could have chosen Monday, but he didn’t.”
Casey won the first four holes against Weir, who 24 hours earlier had birdied nine of the first 10 holes against Spaniard Alvaro Quiros.
The former Masters champion failed to reproduce that form and won only one hole in the entire match.
Casey said: “I didn’t see any reason why Mike would struggle, but he did. The start was key – I was very surprised to be four up after four.
“Conserving energy is always a big one. When my legs get tired it affects my swing. Peter Kostis (his American coach) told me to go back to the hotel and relax when I finished yesterday, so I went back and worked out!”
Things were much closer in the all-European duel between 20-year-old McIlroy and Wilson and they went into sudden death when the Northern Ireland star saved himself with an eight-foot putt on the last.
McIlroy, who reached the last eight on his debut 12 months ago, had recovered from four down to beat American Kevin Na on the opening day, but a drive into a bunker at the 20th, followed by a superb chip by Wilson, ended the clash.
The Mansfield golfer, still searching for his first professional victory despite being part of Europe’s last Ryder Cup side, next plays Donald – his third European opponent in a row.
Wilson stated: “That’s a strange one, but I’m obviously delighted to be through. It’s mainly relief – that’s a great scalp for me.
“We’re only a small country and to have nine in the field is fantastic – a great achievement.”
Poulter stated: “It’s very pleasing. It was never going to be an easy match – none of these is whether you are the number one seed or the 64th.”
He next takes on Indian Jeev Milkha Singh, while sixth seed Casey is up against little-known American Brian Gay, ranked 54th.
Defending champion Geoff Ogilvy was beaten 2&1 by Colombian Camilo Villegas and third seed Jim Furyk was knocked out by South African Charl Schwartzel, but Sergio Garcia came from behind to defeat Dane Anders Hansen.
The final match of the day turned into a marathon. Ernie Els was one down with one to play to fellow South African Retief Goosen, but birdied the last and made another good putt to stay alive on the first extra hole.
Between the two South Africans was settled at the long 20th when Goosen fired in a superb 224-yard approach to within four feet of the flag and Els, short left and then in a greenside bunker, conceded.