Defending champion Rory McIlroy remains on course to retain his WGC-Dell Match Play title after reaching the semi-finals with his most convincing win of the week so far, edging past Open champion Zach Johnson in the last 16 yesterday morning, then beating American Chris Kirk 4&3 in the quarter-finals at Austin Country Club.
The win extended McIlroy’s unbeaten streak in the event to 12 matches, just one shy of the record held by former world No.1 Tiger Woods, who won it in 2003 and 2004 under the previous straight knockout format, before losing in the second round to Nick O’Hern in 2005.
McIlroy was two up on Kirk after four holes before driving out of bounds on the fifth and then three-putting the ninth, but edged back in front with a birdie on the tenth.
Another birdie on the par-five 12th doubled McIlroy’s lead and when Kirk’s second shot to the 13th spun into water, the writing was on the wall for the world No.56.
McIlroy will face new world No.1 Jason Day who beat Brooks Koepka 3&2 in their quarter-final.
With Jordan Spieth losing in the last 16 to Louis Oosthuizen, Day’s victory was enough for him to replace Masters and US Open champion Spieth at the top of the world rankings when they are updated on Monday.
“It’s been a great day,” McIlroy told Sky Sports. “This morning against Zach we probably both did not have our best stuff. It was a bit of a scrappy game but I felt like I played good golf when it mattered and birdied the last to beat him one up when he holed a 20-footer on top of me to make it interesting.
“I battled away in the morning session to get a win and this afternoon I played much better. I started with a nice birdie on the first and there were a couple of mistakes at the end of the front nine, but I think I was four under for the six holes played on the back nine and with the wind up, that will always get the job done.”
Asked about becoming world No.1 for the third time, Day said: “It’s great to be back but I enjoy the journey of getting there.
“It’s going to be a difficult match [against McIlroy]. Rory hits it so good he is never really out of a hole because of how electric he can be so it’s going to be a very stressful, enjoyable match tomorrow.”
In the other quarter-finals, Rafa Cabrera Bello of Spain defeated American Ryan Moore 2&1, while Oosthuizen overcame Dustin Johnson 2&1.