WOLD No 1 Rory McIlroy missed out on ringside seats for the big fight in Las Vegas but delivered a knockout blow to reach the final of the WGC-Cadillac Match Play in San Francisco.
McIlroy finished birdie-eagle in the semi-finals at TPC Harding Park to come from one down with two holes to play to beat Jim Furyk and set up a title showdown with Gary Woodland.
McIlroy birdied the opening hole but saw Furyk hole from 15 feet for a half, before a par on the third was enough for McIlroy to take the lead. The lead was short-lived as McIlroy bogeyed the fourth, but the four-time major winner reclaimed the lead thanks to a birdie on the fifth and looked like moving further ahead when he chipped in from short of the green on the seventh. However, Furyk followed McIlroy in from 20 feet there and also birdied the eighth, while a par was good enough to move one up at the ninth as McIlroy failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker.
McIlroy got back on level terms with a birdie on the 11th and was gifted the lead when Furyk made a mess of the next, the former US Open champion pushing his drive into the rough after McIlroy had done the same and then hitting a tree with his second shot.
However, Furyk bounced back with a superb tee shot on the 13th to set up a birdie from five feet and get back to all square with five holes to play. Furyk had birdied the 15th to retake the lead against McIlroy and both players birdied the 16th to leave Furyk one up with two holes to play. But McIlroy hit a superb approach into the par-17th to win it with a birdie, then rolled in a long eagle putt at the last to seal a dramatic victory.
In the first semi-final, Danny Willett was two-up after four before Woodland produced a brilliant escape from the trees to birdie the sixth, the American then getting back on level terms with another birdie on the seventh and taking the lead when Willett bogeyed the eighth.
After Willett three-putted the 14th to fall two down with four to play, Woodland crucially holed from 14 feet for par on the 15th to maintain his lead and made birdie from a similar distance on the next to close out an impressive 3&2 win.
“We were three under par and played some solid golf, just missed a couple at the wrong time and he made a couple of nice ones at the end,” said Willett. “It’s been a really long, tough week and we have to take away the positives, that it’s Sunday in a World Golf Championship and we are here competing.”
Earlier, McIlroy needed just one hole yesterday to beat Paul Casey and belatedly complete the semi-final line-up.
While Willett, Woodland and Furyk all enjoyed comfortable victories on Saturday to advance to the semi-finals, McIlroy and Casey could not be separated after 21 holes of their quarter-final. Casey was one-up with two holes to play, only to three-putt the 17th, while both players missed chances to win in extra holes before agreeing it was too dark to continue.
Play resumed at 6:45am local time yesterday and McIlroy two-putted from around 90 feet on the par-five first for a winning birdie after Casey was unable to get up and down from heavy rough after his three-wood approach ran through the green. Casey had been sick overnight but refused to use that as an excuse, saying: “I saw my lunch again last night and just [felt] very weak, although I hit two great shots into the first and got a very sticky lie at the back of the green.”
The late finish on Saturday meant McIlroy had to watch the fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao on television in the media centre at Harding Park rather than from his ringside seat in Las Vegas.
“Honestly, I am sort of glad I did not make it because it was sort of an anti-climax and Mayweather did what he usually does and danced around the ring,” he said.