Tiger Woods reached deep to ignite a vintage Tiger charge on the back nine Friday, rallying to beat Patrick Cantlay and win Group 13 at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Texas.
That sets up a dramatic showdown with Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy in Saturday’s knockout rounds among the 16 players who advanced out of the round-robin group stage.
Needing to beat the 18th-seeded Cantlay and have No. 61 Aaron Wise at least tie with No. 44 Brandt Snedeker to force a playoff, Woods built a 1-up lead after the first hole. But Cantlay recovered to win three of the next seven holes and was still 1-up after the 10th.
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That’s when Tiger began to make his charge, winning the next two holes with birdies to regain the lead.
“Patrick got a bad break there at (No.) 9. He drove it over the bunker it rolled in the hazard and I got a free hole,” Woods acknowledged to the Golf Channel. “I just basically tried to carry the momentum to the back nine. Made a big putt at 11, and got it rolling from there.”
That was an understatement, as Woods holed out for eagle from 81 yards on the 13th hole with Cantlay’s ball just right of the driveable par-4.
“I thought three was going to be the number to halve the hole with him there,” Woods told to Golf Channel. “Pretty much a guaranteed up-and-down from there (for Cantlay), so I just tried to get it up there close and make him earn it with a three of my own.
“And next thing you know, it falls in. I’ll take it.”
Woods put a vice-grip on the match with another lengthy birdie putt on No. 14.
He nearly closed the match out on No. 15, shortly after Snedeker conceded his 6&4 defeat to Wise, but Woods’ birdie putt settled just left of the cup.
He yanked his tee shot on No. 16 well right, but received a huge break when the ball ricocheted back into the fairway while Cantlay’s drive found a fairway bunker. With Woods needing only a two-putt from six feet to win the hole, Cantlay conceded the match 4&2.
Woods advanced out of the group with a 2-1-0 record, while Cantlay and Snedeker tied with 1 1/2 points and Wise claimed the one critical point Woods needed along with his victory.
Formidable foe ahead
The last time Woods reached the round of 16 in a Match Play event was 2008, which he went on to win.
“I needed to have two things to happen,” Woods said with McIlroy still working to close out his match. “The fact that Aaron won his match gave me an opportunity to advance, and potentially Rory tomorrow. I’ll be ready.”
Woods will need to maintain the form he found over the final six holes Friday. McIlroy breezed through Group 4 with a 3-0-0 record, beating England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick (No. 32) 4&2 on Friday after dominating No. 64 Luke List 5&4 and No. 47 Justin Harding of South Africa 3&2 over the first two days.
He has yet to trail in a match this week.
Woods and McIlroy will square off for the first time in the event.
“Look, it’s exciting,” McIlroy told the Golf Channel shortly after beating Fitzpatrick. “It’s exciting for the tournament, I’m sure it’s going to be exciting for us. I feel good about my game. I’ve played well all year, I’ve continued to do
“that this week.
“It’s going to be exciting. It’s definitely going to be one of those where I need to go out there and stick to my game plan and not really look at what he does … until I maybe have to towards the end.”
–Derek Harper (@DerekAHarper), Field Level Media