The stars are gone from the Match Play Championship in Marana, Ariz. Still alive are Ian Poulter and Hunter Mahan, the best in match play over the last few years.
Poulter added to his reputation as one tough customer Saturday, when he beat Steve Stricker with one big putt after another, raising his record in this fickle format to 19-3-2 over the last four years.
Mahan outlasted U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson in 18 holes, leaving him two wins away from joining Tiger Woods as the only repeat winners of this World Golf Championship. Mahan hasn’t lost a match in two years, and even more impressive than his 11 wins in a row is that he has gone 151 holes at Dove Mountain without trailing.
Poulter and Mahan meet this morning in the semifinals.
Matt Kuchar had no trouble against Robert Garrigus, building a 4-up lead through 10 holes and hanging on for a 3-and-2 win to reach the quarterfinals for the third straight year. He faces Jason Day of Australia, who won a tight match against Graeme McDowell in 18 holes.
Along with a perfect singles record in the Ryder Cup, Poulter has won the WGC version of the Match Play Championship and the World Match Play Championship in Spain in 2011. He wasn’t aware of his record since 2010, nor did he sound terribly surprised.
“I’m pretty proud of it,” he said. “Does it surprise me? I love match play.”
That much is becoming abundantly clear. After he pulled away from Tim Clark of South Africa in the third round Saturday morning, he faced his toughest challenge yet in Stricker, who started his 46th birthday celebration by making eight birdies in a brilliantly played match against Scott Piercy in the third round.
Stricker holed a 30-foot putt on the final hole for the win, and then ran into someone who putted even better.
The match effectively turned on the third hole. After they traded birdies, Stricker stuffed his tee shot into 6 feet, while Poulter pulled his shot some 40 feet away above the ridge. Poulter wound up making the putt, and all Stricker could do was laugh. He missed his short birdie, and the momentum shifted for good.
Mahan hasn’t lost any match around the world since Martin Kaymer beat him in the third round at Dove Mountain in 2011. He exacted a small piece of revenge by beating Kaymer in the third round. Mahan had to play only 43 holes to reach the quarterfinals.
But his match against Simpson was tough from the start, and it was the first time Mahan played the 18th hole in competition since his opening match a year ago.
Neither player led by more than one hole, and Mahan took the lead for good on the par-3 16th when Simpson missed a 10-foot par putt. Mahan had to make a 7-foot par putt on the 16th for his par and the lead, and the finished with pars.
Day fell two holes behind immediately against McDowell, and the turning point might have been the seventh. McDowell had a tough chip behind the green that he moved only a few inches and wound up making bogey. Day holed a 6-footer for par to square the match, and it was a see-saw match the rest of the way.
Thai teenager Ariya Jutanugarn shot a 2-under 70 in Chonburi, Thailand, to lead by 3 strokes after the third round of the LPGA Thailand despite finishing with two bogeys.
Last year’s top-ranked amateur, Ariya had seven birdies — including five in a row from No. 10 — for an 11-under 205 total at the Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course. The 17-year-old Thai needed a sponsor’s invitation to enter the tournament in her first year as a professional.
Stacy Lewis (76), Se Ri Pak (71) and Beatriz Recari (72) followed, and Inbee Park (71) was another stroke behind.