Young giants will bat­tle

McIl­roy, Day go mano-a-mano this morn­ing in match play semi­fi­nal

SundayXtra - - SPORTS - By Doug Fer­gu­son

AUSTIN, Texas — The Dell Match Play has pro­duced a semi­fi­nal that is al­most big­ger than Texas. Even with­out Jor­dan Spi­eth. Ja­son Day pow­ered his way to two vic­to­ries Satur­day to as­sure he will re­turn to No. 1 in the world.

But this is no time to cel­e­brate. His re­ward is a semi­fi­nal show­down against de­fend­ing cham­pion Rory McIl­roy, who ran his un­beaten streak to 12 matches and needs two more to join Tiger Woods as the only back-to-back win­ners. This is only the sec­ond time the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds have met in the semi­fi­nals since the Match Play be­gan in 1999. They are the last two win­ners of this event. Play away, please. “I ex­pect it to be very, very tough and very stress­ful out there,” Day said. “And that’s the stuff I en­joy.” Day and McIl­roy have never met in match play. “I’d love to play Ja­son,” McIl­roy said. “I’d re­ally rel­ish it. He’s play­ing re­ally well at the minute, com­ing off a win last week. I’d be re­ally up for it. It’s a big match.”

Spi­eth, who led the Texas Longhorns to an NCAA ti­tle in 2012 and had the gallery on his side all week, won’t be around for all the ex­cite­ment.

He lost his fourth-round match to Louis Oosthuizen, and then he lost the No. 1 rank­ing when Day ad­vanced to the semi­fi­nal. Spi­eth was more con­cerned about how his swing got out of sorts than los­ing the No. 1 rank­ing.

“To be hon­est, it could be a good thing for me go­ing in­cred­i­ble con­trol of the ball this week and of my wedges. I’m not ex­actly sure what hap­pened.”

Spi­eth led a trail of Amer­i­cans to the air­port. There were 11 Amer­i­cans in the round of 16 at the start of the day, none at the end of it. This is the first time since 2010 that no Amer­i­cans ad­vanced to the semi­fi­nals.

Day has played the fewest holes this week — 69 holes over five rounds — helped by an ill Paul Casey pulling out af­ter six holes on Thurs­day.

Day squared the match against Koepka on the eighth hole, pulled ahead with a birdie on No. 10 and then hit out of the bunker to about 20 feet for an ea­gle that was con­ceded to go 2 up. Koepka never won an­other hole.

McIl­roy’s tough­est work came in the morn­ing against Zach John­son, who bat­tled McIl­roy to the very end. McIl­roy was lead­ing 1 up when he hit wedge to three feet on the 18th that seem­ingly wrapped up the match, ex­cept John­son made a 20foot birdie putt and McIl­roy had to roll in his birdie to win.

Oosthuizen reached the semi­fi­nals for the first time, and John­son helped him get there.

John­son three-putted for bo­gey on No. 11 to fall be­hind for the first time in the match. Oosthuizen went into the wa­ter on the par-5 12th, only for John­son to fol­low with a shot into the wa­ter. Oosthuizen was 1 up play­ing the par-3 17th when he made a 20foot birdie putt, and John­son missed his birdie from six feet that would have ex­tended the match.

“I just wanted to go through to to­mor­row and see if I can get into this fi­nal,” Oosthuizen said.

That might be what it takes for any­one to pay at­ten­tion to him or Cabr­era Bello, who picked up one im­por­tant vic­tory this week. His vic­tory Satur­day morn­ing as­sured him of mov­ing into the top 50 at the end of the week and get­ting into the Masters for the first time.

‘I’d love to play Ja­son (Day). I’d re­ally rel­ish it. He’s play­ing re­ally well at the minute, com­ing off a win last week. I’d be re­ally up for it. It’s a big match’


Rory McIl­roy watches his chip onto the 15th green en route to elim­i­nat­ing Zach John­son in a morn­ing match.

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