MARANA, Ariz. (AP) – Lee Westwood decided to bring a new approach to the Match Play Championship, which has caused him such fits that he had never made it out of the second round in 11 previous attempts.
On the eve of the tournament, Westwood said he was determined to get in front as early as possible and stay there.
It has worked to perfection going into the weekend at Dove Mountain. Westwood halved the opening hole of his first match Wednesday. That's the only time he wasn't in the lead. When he finished off Nick Watney on the 16th hole Friday, the numbers were simply staggering.
Westwood has led in 48 of the 49 holes he has played through three rounds.
Little did he know, Peter Hanson was listening to his pre-tournament news conference.
“I've lost in the first round the last two years here,'' Hanson said. “He said that he was feeling like a little bit of a slow starter. I thought about it myself, and I think we play a similar kind of game. We kind of ease into golf tournaments and try to be around on the weekend and be up for when it matters Sunday afternoon.
“This is more of a sprint.''
Perhaps it should not be surprising that Westwood and Hanson, who defeated Brandt Snedeker on Friday, are the only quarterfinalists who have yet to trail in any of their three matches.
Hanson has played 47 holes and was tied in three of them.
Westwood birdied the opening two holes for a 2-up lead on Watney – the second straight day that he has started with two birdies – and was never seriously challenged in his 3-and-2 win that brought a small measure of revenge. Watney had eliminated Westwood each of the past two years in the Match Play Championship.
Hanson went one better. He birdied the first three holes, had a nervous moment in the middle of the match, and then settled down for a 5-and-3 win over Snedeker.
This is not the most compelling bracket remaining at Dove Mountain.
Six of the remaining players are in the quarterfinals for the first time – only U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy and Matt Kuchar have made it this far.
Only two of the top seeds are remaining – McIlroy at No. 2, Westwood at No. 3. Kuchar knocked off fourth-seeded Martin Kaymer, the finalist a year ago, while Hunter Mahan took care of fifth-seeded Steve Stricker.
Friday was on its way to being the dullest ever. For the longest time, it looked as though none of the eight matches would reach the 18th hole until Bae Sang-moon was forced to the final hole in the last match, making a 6-foot par putt to hold off John Senden of Australia.
Two players can make it plenty compelling on the weekend, though – McIlroy and Westwood.
They once were part of the same stable at International Sports Management until McIlroy abruptly left in October. Westwood's crowning achievement was reaching No. 1 in the world – he was there twice for a total of 22 weeks – while McIlroy rose to fame with his record-setting win last year at Congressional in the U.S. Open.
Westwood squandered a chance to win in Dubai. McIlroy lost an opportunity to win in Abu Dhabi.
Now, both can get to No. 1 by winning this World Golf Championship.
Westwood lost the No. 1 ranking to Luke Donald in a playoff that Donald won at Wentworth last May. Such a scenario can't happen at Dove Mountain because Westwood and McIlroy, if they won their quarterfinal matches Saturday, would face each other in a semifinal match Sunday morning.
Their priorities are different, too. McIlroy has never been No. 1. Westwood is more interested in winning a WGC event for the first time. But they are thinking about it, nonetheless.
“It's a nice incentive,'' McIlroy said. “It's nice to have in the back of your mind. And if you're struggling in a match and find it hard to get yourself up, or get any sort of momentum, if you think about that and you think if you can really dig deep, you still have a chance to become No. 1.''
Westwood said his goals are to win majors, win WGC events, and win in America more regularly.
“If I do that, then the No. 1 in the world ranking just comes along as a product of that,'' he said. “I'd be lying if I didn't say every guy playing this week wants to be No. 1 in the world. It means you're playing well, for starters.''
There were a few big moments even though only one of the matches went the distance in the third round.
– Mark Wilson built a big lead against Dustin Johnson, 4 up through 10 holes. Johnson won the 11th hole, but any chance of regaining the momentum ended when Wilson holed a 50-yard chip on the 12th and coasted to victory. It was the second straight year he beat Johnson. Next up for Wilson is Hanson. Both of them have played only 47 holes this week, tying the fewest through three rounds.
– Mahan watched Stricker self-destruct on the back nine by hitting into the desert on the 10th and 11th holes and losing them both. Stricker was angry with himself, but he always has time for a smile. That was the case on the 12th, when Mahan holed a 55-foot birdie putt. Stricker smiled, retrieved the ball out of the cup and was about to hand it to Mahan when he turned and heaved it into the fans sitting in a corporate box. Mahan plays Kuchar, assuring that an American will be in the semifinals for the first time since 2009.
– Bae has become a surprise, but only because it's his first Match Play Championship. He won three times on the Japan Golf Tour a year ago and ended the season at No. 30 in the world. He will play McIlroy, and they aren't strangers. At the Korea Open in 2009, McIlroy played in the final group with Bae, who shot 67 (McIlroy had a 72) to win.
– In the all-Scotland match, Martin Laird got up early on Paul Lawrie and beat him on the 17th hole. That sets up a Scotland-England quarterfinal, with Laird taking on Westwood.