MARANA, Arizona – The battle to be the new World No. 1 is still on. If either Rory McIlroy or Lee Westwood win this week, they will knock Luke Donald from the top spot. Both players advanced to Saturday's quarterfinal, and they remain on a collision course for a semifinal clash on Sunday morning.
Westwood beat Nick Watney, 3 and 2, while McIlroy sent Miguel Angel Jimenez packing, 3 and 1. Both admitted it was a distraction trying to keep that No. 1 carrot out of their mind.
"Obviously I would like to be No. 1," Westwood said. "I'd be lying if I didn't say every guy playing wants to be No. 1."
McIlroy said Jimenez told him he hoped he would get to No. 1 on Sunday. McIlroy admitted that he is finding it difficult to stop his mind from wandering off, thinking about getting to be World No. 1.
"To be honest it is," he said. "But in a way that's a good thing. It gives me a little bit of motivation."
McIlroy's next opponent is Bae Sang-moon. They played together once before going out tied for the lead in the final group of the 2009 Korean Open. Bae won that day. But now the 2010 U.S. Open champion is the favorite to move on to the semifinals.
"I feel like I'm a different player than a couple of years ago," McIlroy said. "Last year was a great stepping stone for hopefully bigger and better things."
Meanwhile, Hunter Mahan rattled off four straight birdies on the back nine to send Steve Stricker to the airport.
"Luckily I brought my 'A' game," he added after knocking in nine birdies in his round to win, 4 and 3.
His next opponent is Matt Kuchar, which at least guarantees there will still be an American presence in the semifinals. Kuchar dispatched Martin Kaymer, 4 and 3.
"I feel like I'm getting better with each match," Kuchar said.
Sweden's Peter Hanson thrashed Brandt Snedeker, 5 and 3, while Mark Wilson dusted Dustin Johnson, 4 and 3, to complete the lineup for the Final Eight.
Westwood booked his place in the quarterfinals with a convincing win over Watney. Westwood started fast, won the first two holes and never really looked to be in any trouble.
"The format dictates you want to get off to a flier," he said. "I suppose you go to the first tee with a more aggressive attitude, attack the pin, and make the putt."
He did just that.
Westwood stepped onto the first tee and smashed his opening drive into the perfect position to attack the pin. Watney couldn't follow that. He hooked his drive toward the desert and stared at it for an age, resting on his driver like an old man leaning on a walking stick. Westwood puffed out his chest and marched down the fairway, leaving his opponent to scuttle along behind him.
When Westwood won the second hole after another piercing drive, answered by Watney with a twitchy push right, the tone was set for their match. Watney trudged to the third tee looking shell-shocked and tired. Beating Tiger Woods in the second round had clearly taken its toll. This was his hangover after the party.
Despite Watney's growing frustration that culminated with him stabbing his bag with his putter at the ninth, this was a friendly affair. Westwood said they chatted about football and said Watney knew to call it football, not soccer.
"He's a Tottenham Hotspur fan, so that may mean he doesn't know a lot about it," Westwood said with a laugh. "He didn't know Nottingham Forest well [Westwood's team], which means he really doesn't know a lot about football. I filled him in on the England manager's job and how his manager [Harry Redknapp] might be a favorite for it, and his team might be trying to keep hold of him."
Westwood will now play Martin Laird, who won the all-Scottish match against Paul Lawrie, 3 and 1.
"I've never actually played with Lee," Laird said. "You've got to look forward to playing the guys that are ranked up in the world."
Three more victories for either Westwood or McIlroy, and Luke Donald's nine-month reign as World No. 1 will be over. One of them will also get to kiss the trophy, which has been displayed all week on the first tee, perched on a podium and surrounded by red roses.