Monday 29 May 2017

Rory McIlroy pushes for golf’s top spot

Rory McIlroy. Photo: Getty Images
Rory McIlroy. Photo: Getty Images

Mark Garrod

RORY McIlroy and Lee Westwood still have a chance to go to world number one this weekend - and they do not have to beat Tiger Woods to get there.

Woods missed a six-foot birdie putt on the final green to lose to fellow American Nick Watney in the second round of the Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson yesterday.



That meant Westwood avoided a clash today with the 14-time major champion, but in Watney he is up against the player who has knocked him out the last two years.



"It's a chance to get revenge," said England's third seed, through to the last 16 for the first time in 12 attempts after wins over Nicolas Colsaerts and Robert Karlsson so far.



McIlroy, meanwhile, faces Miguel Angel Jimenez while Scots Paul Lawrie and Martin Laird go head-to-head for a place in the quarter-finals.



It is the fourth season in a row that Friday onwards will be a Tiger-free zone at the world championship event.



He went out to Thomas Bjorn on the opening day last year, did not play in 2010 following his sex scandal and was sent packing by Tim Clark in the second round the previous February.



"I had an opportunity, but something I fought all day was blocking my putts and I blocked that one (at 18)," said a disappointed Woods, who will have to try to hit back at next week's Honda Classic close to his new Florida home.



Watney commented "he didn't putt like we are all used to seeing him putt", but the truth is that it is becoming a more common sight recently.



Westwood was cruising at five-up after 10 against former Ryder Cup team-mate Karlsson, but made a "real schoolboy mental error" on the next and the Swede got back to only two down before the end came at the 16th.



Although he knows only too well what Watney is capable of, there was a hint that Westwood had the next opponent he wanted when he described Woods as one of the best-ever match play golfers along with Ernie Els and the late Seve Ballesteros.



Second seed McIlroy has so far taken care of South African George Coetzee and Dane Anders Hansen and he is the only current major champion left in.



Darren Clarke lost in the first round to Watney, while Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and USPGA winner Keegan Bradley went out to Korean Bae Sang-moon and 48-year-old Jimenez respectively yesterday.



Lawrie said of his upcoming Tartan tussle: "I'm looking forward to it. Obviously Martin has been playing good and he's ahead of me in the world rankings, so he's the favourite."



Laird remembers being coached by the 1999 Open champion over a decade ago, but this is the time they have played together in competition.



Laird said: "He came to a Scotland coaching session. I would have been 17 and I remember looking up to him then thinking this is where I want to go. I want to be holding the (Claret Jug) trophy like he is.



"He's been such a good European Tour player for so long. He's definitely one of the guys growing up I used to watch."

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