McIlroy’s push for No1 spot stays on course
Published 25/02/2012 | 05:00
RORY McILROY still nurtures hopes of tomorrow becoming the first Irish golfer to reach world No 1 -- yet old dog Miguel Angel Jimenez certainly made the 22-year-old Ulsterman take the hard road into this morning's Accenture Match Play quarter-finals.
Not for the first time this week in Arizona, McIlroy gave an opponent hope down the stretch when, really, there should have been none.
However, when the coup de grace came at 17, McIlroy applied it in style. After his phenomenal three-wood tee shot bounded well past the Spaniard's drive, he set up the match-clinching birdie with a world class approach to two feet. It finished 3&1.
McIlroy or his one-time bitter-tweet rival Lee Westwood will replace Luke Donald as world No 1 should either win this World Golf Championship -- and they are slated to meet in this afternoon's semi-final.
First, however, McIlroy meets Korean sensation San-Moon Bae (25) in the quarter-final. PGA Tour rookie Bae, a three-time winner in Japan last year, followed up impressive victories over Ian Poulter and Masters champion Charl Schwartzel by beating Aussie John Senden yesterday.
Jimenez, at 48 the oldest player at this championship, had never been behind in his first two matches against Sergio Garcia and PGA Champion Keegan Bradley but 'the Mechanic' couldn't get the engine started early yesterday.
He hadn't a birdie on his card as he fell three behind through the turn and then McIlroy might have led by six had he polished off a couple of birdie putts in those opening half-dozen holes.
Yet a switch suddenly clicked on for McIlroy at the 486-yard seventh when he hit a stunning mid-iron to three feet to force a birdie.
An equally impressive iron shot into five feet at the ninth set-up another winning birdie ... yet McIlroy would run himself up a blind alley at 11, 12 and 13.
First, he drove into an unplayable lie in the desert on his way to a bogey six at the par five, where Jimenez landed his first birdie.
Then he missed the green right with a six-iron at 12 on his way to an untidy four at the 220-yard par three.
Jimenez let him off the hook by hitting his splash-out from a greenside bunker eight feet beyond the cup and missing the putt for a winning par, but McIlroy made life difficult for himself once again at 13.
This time he hit a clumsy chip from greenside rough, his ball rolling back down into a swale, allowing the Spaniard narrow the lead to two with a nice up-and-down for birdie from a greenside bunker.
Suddenly we had a match on our hands. Given a glimmer of hope, Jimenez hit a fantastic drive hole-high right at the 335-yard par four 15th and McIlroy matched it, both men two-putting for birdie.
McIlroy then missed from seven feet for a match-clinching birdie after hitting a wonderful six-iron tee shot into 16.
In fairness, Westwood has looked the more likely to prevail should he and McIlroy meet this afternoon. Of course, this morning the Englishman first faces Martin Laird, a 3&1 winner of the all-Scottish clash with Paul Lawrie.
Westwood impressed as he eased past Tiger Woods' conqueror Nick Watney 3&2 to avenge successive second-round defeats by the American here in the past two years.
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