Sunday, February 24, 2013
Mahan eases into quarters, Poulter also through
By Mark Lamport-Stokes
MARANA, Arizona (Reuters) - Defending champion Hunter Mahan wasted little time in booking his place in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship quarter-finals, pounding Germany's Martin Kaymer 5&4 on Saturday.
American Mahan, who won last year's title with a commanding 2&1 victory over Rory McIlroy in the final, birdied five of the first eight holes after teeing off at the 10th to put Kaymer under early pressure.
Though the German sank a 16-foot eagle putt at the par-five second to trim the American's lead to 4up, Mahan rebounded with another birdie at the fourth before sealing the win with a two-putt par at the fifth.
"I feel good about my game," a smiling Mahan said greenside after piling up seven birdies in 14 holes on a calm and sunny morning at Dove Mountain where frost delayed the scheduled start by 45 minutes.
"I played great today, hit a lot of good quality shots, got off to a good start and got a good lead early.
"If you hit fairways and greens, you know you're going to put pressure on your guy," added the American, who has not trailed in any of his matches this week.
Mahan won his ninth consecutive match at the elite World Golf Championships (WGC) event and will next face U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, who beat Spaniard Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano 2up in the third round.
Britain's Ian Poulter, the 2010 champion, advanced with a 5&3 victory over South African Tim Clark while Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell beat surprise package Shane Lowry of Ireland 3&2.
"You have to play aggressive and that's when I play my best golf," matchplay specialist Poulter said after reaching the last eight at this event for a fourth time.
"My short game was on today. I missed a few greens in the wrong spots, but managed to get up and down. And when I hit greens, I had great birdie opportunities."
Lowry, the world number 68, had eliminated top-ranked McIlroy 1up in the opening round but he struggled against McDowell who never relinquished his grip after making four birdies in the first nine holes.
McDowell will next face Australian Jason Day, who stunned Masters champion Bubba Watson 4&3 with an impressive five-birdie display.
The departure of world number 10 Watson left the tournament without any other member of the game's top 10 after a week that began with eight of them in the field.
Veteran Steve Stricker, Match Play champion in 2001, rolled in a 31-foot downhill birdie putt at the par-four ninth, the 18th hole in a tight contest of extraordinarily high quality, to edge past fellow American Scott Piercy 1up.
Stricker, on his 46th birthday, and Piercy totalled 15 birdies between them in ideal scoring conditions in Arizona's high desert.
"We both played great," said Stricker, who will meet Poulter in the last eight. "He (Piercy) didn't make a bogey today and neither did I, and neither one of us really deserves to go home. But I'm very excited to be moving on."
American Robert Garrigus eagled the par-four 15th after hitting a superb 339-yard tee shot to six feet on the way to a 3&1 victory over Swede Fredrik Jacobson.
Garrigus, making his first appearance in the Match Play Championship, will take on compatriot Kuchar in Saturday afternoon's quarter-finals, Kuchar having beaten long-hitting Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts 4&3.
In a bid to get the snow-delayed tournament back on track, the players began the third round with a two-tee start. After a quick turnaround, the quarter-finals were scheduled to be completed later on Saturday.
Only three-and-a-half hours of golf was possible on Wednesday because of driving sleet and then snow at Dove Mountain and the marathon first round was only finished off on Friday morning.