The Old Firm meeting has a rival for the biggest heavyweight sporting clash this weekend after Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy set up a first-ever head-to-head in the last 16 in the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play in Texas.
Woods, a three-time winner, came from two down after eight to beat fellow American Patrick Cantlay 4&2 at Austin Country Club to secure top spot in his group as he bounced back from a second-day defeat by Brandt Snedeker.
After a brace of wins, McIlroy only needed to avoid defeat against Matt Fitzpatrick and it was mission accomplished as the Northern Irishman delivered a 4&2 success.
“That’s going to be a lot of fun and both of us will be ready for it,” said Woods in an interview with Sky Sports as he looked forward to his meeting with McIlroy this morning.
Concurring, McIlroy said: “I think it’s really exciting for the tournament, it’s exciting for both of us. I didn’t put up much of a fight in the Tour Championship last year [when paired with Woods in the final round] so hopefully I can give him a better game tomorrow.”
Woods and McIlroy have played together 18 times in stroke-play events on the PGA Tour over the years, most recently in the second round at this year’s Genesis Open in Los Angles. Woods has a better scoring average in those rounds but only just – 69.67 versus 69.72.
Snedeker would have won Group 13 with a victory over Aaron Wise, who had already been eliminated following two defeats, only for Wise to do Woods a huge favour with a thumping 6&4 triumph.
“I was fortunate enough to have things go my way,” admitted Woods, who had been one down at the turn before holing from 20 feet for a birdie at the 11th then produced a lovely pitch and winning birdie at the 12th before holing out from 80 yards for an eagle on the 13th.
“That was a bonus,” he said of the latter. “I thought I was going to need a three to halve the hole so I was trying to get it close enough to put a little bit of pressure on and the next thing you know it goes in.”
McIlroy won the Players Championship in his last outing and has been in brilliant form once again so far in this event – his final warm up for a fifth crack at completing the career grand slam by winning the Masters.
“I feel like pretty much all of this year it’s been close to what I would think is some of my best golf,” he said. “I feel comfortable with my game, I’m driving it as good as I ever have, I’ve tidied up my iron play and I’ve found something with the putter that feels really good. I feel like I can sustain this level.”
Henrik Stenson, the 2016 Open champion, was the first player to progress after he beat Jim Furyk 5&4 in a group decider. “It was a big challenge and I managed to take it on,” said the Swede of topping a ‘Group of Death’ that also included Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.
Lee Westwood had a hole-in-one at the 11th, but that wasn’t enough to stop fellow Englishman Tyrrell Hatton beating him to go through.
Others to progress included Ryder Cup stars Francesco Molinari, Sergio Garcia and Paul Casey, as well as Dunhill Links champion Lucas Bjeregaard on his debut in the event.
While he’d already gone out after two defeats, Scotland’s Russell Knox won his final match by two holes against Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat in a group won by Australian Marc Leishman.
Jason Day (Aus) lost to Phil Mickelson (US) two holes
Henrik Stenson (Swe) bt Jim Furyk (US) 5&4
Justin Thomas (US) halved with Keegan Bradley (US)
Matt Wallace (Eng) lost to Lucas Bjerregaard (Den) one hole
Tiger Woods (US) bt Patrick Cantlay (US) 4&2
Brandt Snedeker (US) lost to Aaron Wise (US) 6&4
Rory McIlroy (NIrl) bt Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng) 4&2
Justin Harding (Rsa) bt Luke List (US) two holes
Xander Schauffele (US) lost to Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spa) one hole
Tyrrell Hatton (Eng) bt Lee Westwood (Eng) 3&1
Jon Rahm (Spa) halved with Matt Kuchar (US)
J.B. Holmes (US) bt Si Woo Kim (Kor) 6&4
Patrick Reed (US) bt Sergio Garcia (Spa) 2&1
Shane Lowry (Irl) bt Andrew Putnam (US) 3&2
Dustin Johnson (US) lost to Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn) 4&2
Branden Grace (Rsa) bt Chez Reavie (US) 2&1
Tommy Fleetwood (Eng) lost to Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa) 4&3
Kyle Stanley (US) lost to Byeong-Hun An (Kor) 6&5
Bryson DeChambeau (US) lost to Marc Leishman (Aus) 5&4
Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha) lost to Russell Knox (Sco) two holes
Tony Finau (US) lost to Ian Poulter (Eng) one hole
Kevin Kisner (US) bt Keith Mitchell (US) 2&1
Brooks Koepka (US) lost to Alex Noren (Swe) 3&2
Haotong Li (Chn) lost to Tom Lewis (Eng) one hole
Paul Casey (Eng) bt Cameron Smith (Aus) 4&3
Charles Howell III (US) lost to Abraham Ancer (Mex) 5&3
Francesco Molinari (Ita) bt Webb Simpson (US) 2&1
Thorbjorn Olesen (Den) lost to Satoshi Kodaira (Jpn) 3&1
Bubba Watson (US) bt Jordan Spieth (US) one hole
Billy Horschel (US) lost to Kevin Na (US) 3&1
Justin Rose (Eng) bt Gary Woodland (US) one hole
Eddie Pepperell (Eng) lost to Emiliano Grillo (Arg) 4&3
Bjerregaard v Stenson
McIlroy v Woods
Kuchar v Hatton
Grace v Garcia
Leishman v Oosthuizen
Li v Kisner
Molinari v Casey
Rose v N