SCOTLAND’S Martin Laird bowed out of the WGC Accenture Match Play championship last night with a 4 and 2 defeat to Lee Westwood.
And Rory McIlroy beat South Korean Bae Sang-moon to set up a head to head with the Englishman in today’s semi-finals at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club in Tucson.
The reward for the winner at the end of the day could be the world No.1 spot.
Westwood reached the last four with a polished, error-free victory over Laird minutes after 22-year-old Northern Irishman McIlroy beat Bae on the same green.
The two Ryder Cup team-mates – stablemates too until McIlroy made what Westwood called a “bizarre decision” to leave Andrew “Chubby” Chandler’s International Sports Management last October – both need to take the title to oust Luke Donald at the top of the rankings.
Americans Hunter Mahan and Mark Wilson meet in the other semi-final, Mahan demolishing compatriot Matt Kuchar 6 and 5 and Wilson maintaining his record of not needing to play the last two holes yet by seeing off Swede Peter Hanson 4 and 3.
Westwood said of taking on McIlroy: “We’ve played a lot together. It will be a good match – I hope it will be a great match, that we both play well and make a lot of birdies.”
McIlroy added: “I’m looking forward to it. It’s obviously what I wanted going out today and I think it’s the match everybody wants to see. I know I will need to play my best. It’s going to be a big day, but I can’t get too far ahead of myself. I’ve just got to concentrate on beating Lee Westwood and that’s a tough enough task in itself.”
Never previously beyond the second round at the Match Play in 11 previous appearances, Worksop 38-year-old Westwood has been superbly impressive in knocking out Nicolas Colsaerts, Robert Karlsson, Nick Watney and then Laird.
The Arizona-based Glaswegian became the first player to take the lead against Westwood when he rolled in a six-foot birdie putt on the first. But Laird, who came into the week ranked 40th, bogeyed the sixth, seventh, ninth and 10th – all with bogeys after missing the greens – to be in deep trouble at three down.
Westwood handed one back by three-putting the long next after finding the green in two, but Laird’s three attempts to get out of a bunker on the 14th gave him a mountain to climb and Westwood was in no mood to let him back in.
McIlroy began in style with a birdie, but was in the lake at the third and with eight to play was again all square. It was then that he showed his class, making birdies at the 11th and 13th – both par fives – and another on the driveable 15th when he chipped to two feet.
“For the most part I felt I played pretty well,” said the US Open champion. “I hit a couple of loose drives, but apart from that I thought it was some of my best golf of the week.
“You really have to try to control your ball flight and pick your spots on the greens.”
Kuchar, third in the event last year, was a shadow of the player who had knocked out fourth seed Kaymer the day before. He three-putted twice and had four bogeys as he turned five down, then went over the green and dropped another stroke on the next.
Mahan added to his opponent’s misery by halving the long eighth in birdie fours and then rolling in an 18-footer for another birdie at the next. Kuchar did birdie the 11th and 13th, both par fives, but so did Mahan and that was that.
Hanson fell behind for the first time all week when he bogeyed the first, but there was never more than one in it until the European Ryder Cup player went into the desert scrub for the second successive hole on the long 11th and ran up a bogey six.
He was then in two bunkers at the 13th and despite rescuing a par five it was not good enough to save him from losing another hole – and the end was not far away.