Sweden’s Pierre Fulke will take on American Steve Stricker in the final of the WGC – Accenture Match Play Championship following a dramatic fourth day’s play at the Metropolitan Golf Club in Melbourne.
Fulke, winner of both the Volvo Masters and the Scottish PGA Championship on the 2000 European Tour International Schedule, got up and down at the first extra hole of a sudden-death play-off to overcame American Brad Faxon in their quarter final match before claiming a 2 and 1 victory over the number one seed Ernie Els in the semi-final.
The semi-final clash between the two European Tour Members who reached the last four swept back and forth until Fulke finally closed Els out at the 17th and moved within reach of the £1 million first prize.
Els was the first to draw blood, birdieing the third hole to move one up. Fulke momentarily drew level following an Els bogey on the fifth but the South African restored his lead with a birdie on the sixth. Fulke responded with a brace of birdies from the eighth to reach the turn one up but the match was level again a hole later when Fulke dropped a shot.
Fulke’s lead was back to one following a birdie on the 12th and he was unlucky not to move two ahead when his putt on the 13th slid past the hole. Two holes later he was two ahead, judging his sharply breaking left to right putt to perfection for another birdie.
The 16th was halved and Els found trouble with his tee shot on the 17th only to manufacture a miraculous recovery shot through a gap in the trees which completely blocked his view of the green. But Els’s 15 foot birdie attempt to take the match down the last slipped past and Fulke calmly two putted for the match.
Fulke said: “To beat Ernie is phenomenal. I’ve not been nervous at all. I would have been pleased to win two matches because in match play you never know, but I feel so relaxed. When it is just you and one other guy it feels like a Sunday at home.”
Els added: “It’s a shame I didn’t give Pierre a better game. He did what he had to do and I kind of ran out of steam.”
In the other semi-final Japan’s Toru Taniguchi bogeyed the first hole to hand the lead to Stricker which he never relinquished. Taniguchi was three down before winning his first hole at the 12th and the gap was back to one when Stricker bogeyed the next.
Stricker hit a poor drive on the 15th in the trees on the left and could only hack his ball out from under the trees. But somehow he made a sensational halving par and with a birdie on the next was back to two up. Like Els earlier Taniguchi could only manage a half and Stricker progressed to the final with a 2 and 1 victory.
The day started in similarly dramatic fashion with two of the four quarter finals being decided in extra holes.
Fulke was one up on Faxon with three to play but the Swede’s approach to the 16th was heading for trouble before hitting a spectator and rebounding onto the fringe of the green. From there Fulke was able to two putt for the half but lost the next. In his two previous matches Fulke had needed a birdie to stay alive in the tournament and on this occasion he holed a testing six footer for par to move into extra holes. Faxon found trouble on the first extra hole and Fulke made no mistake to take his place in the semi-finals.
Els reached the semi-finals after eliminating American Craig Stadler by holing a 25 fott birdie putt on the final green. It wasn’t the only putt he holed as on the previous four greens he managed to preserve his one hole lead with putts from four, six, five and ten feet.
The other European Tour Member to reach the quarter finals was Australian left-hander Nick O’Hern who was defeated by Stricker at the 20th hole.
“Its been a really nice ride,” said O’Hern. “It would have been good to keep going but Steve just holed too many putts at the end for me to get through.”
Hole after hole on the back nine, Stricker missed the fairway only to conjure up brilliant recoveries including a long downhill putt on the 18th to force the tie into extra holes. At the 20th O’Hern mishit his drive into trees and eventually conceded the hole and the match.
In the fourth quarter final Taniguchi beat compatriot Shigeki Maruyama on the 17th.Semi-final scores