Retief Goosen, Nick O’Hern, Ian Poulter and Adam Scott will fly the flag for The European Tour when they fill half the places in the quarter-finals of the World Golf Championships – Accenture Match Play at La Costa Resort and Spa in California.
The quartet all progressed through their second and third round assignments on Friday and at least one European Tour Member is guaranteed a semi-final spot as O’Hern and Poulter meet in the last eight. Scott will come up against the beaten finalist of 2003, American David Toms, while Goosen meets Australian Robert Allenby.
Poulter, who reached the quarter-finals in his first appearance in the event last year, equalled that with two contrasting victories, cruising past Australian Stuart Appleby in the second round 6 and 5, but having to come from behind in the latter stages to see off South African Rory Sabbatini on the final green of a tense third round encounter.
Two holes down with five holes to play, Poulter looked in trouble, but the fighting spirit which courses through every fibre of the 28 year old Englishman resurfaced again in the closing stages.
A par four was good enough to take the 14th hole and reduce his deficit to one as Sabbatini found trouble and a superb birdie two at the short 16th levelled the match. Once again he held his nerve at the 17th to move ahead for the first time since the fifth hole and a half in par five at the last was good enough to close out the match.
“I’ve made so many birdies in the last couple of days, there was no reason why I couldn’t birdie four of the last five, in fact, there’s no reason why I couldn’t birdie the whole of the last five,” he said.
“That is what I kept saying to myself and when Rory hit a couple of poor shots coming down the stretch, I took advantage and managed to close the door. I never give up until the last ball is struck and I proved that again out there. You just can’t give up.”
Coming up against Poulter in the quarter-finals will be his European Tour colleague O’Hern, who matched his best performance in the event – reaching the quarter-finals in 2001 – with an immaculate day’s golf.
The 33 year old left hander caused the biggest upset of the morning when he beat defending champion Tiger Woods 3 and 1, ending the World Number Two’s hopes of winning the title for the third successive year.
If that victory was impressive in terms of scalp-taking, his 5 and 4 win in the afternoon’s third round over England’s Luke Donald was even more impressive in terms of the quality of golf produced, the Australian covering the 14 holes in the match in figures of five under par.
“Obviously it has been a very successful day for me,” he said. “This morning, when I was playing Tiger, it was always going to be a tough match but I played really well, in fact I played solid all day.
“I actually probably hit the ball better this morning but I putted really nicely this afternoon. They rolled the greens between rounds and I found them quite a bit smoother than they had been and that made quite a difference. Obviously they are also getting better because there are less guys on them.”
Completing the trio of European Tour Members in the bottom half of the draw was Scott, the winner of last week’s rain-shortened Nissan Open on the US PGA Tour, and who moved a step closer to back-to-back victories with a solid day’s showing.
In the morning’s second round, he dispatched England’s David Howell by 2 and 1, and continued his cull of last year’s winning Ryder Cup Team in the afternoon when he removed Spain’s Sergio Garcia 4 and 3.
Like his compatriot O’Hern, Scott was in imperious form in the afternoon, also posting five birdies without shedding a shot, moving four up after 11 holes before rattling off four solid par figures to close out the match, never giving Garcia a glimmer of hope of opening the door.
“I think both of us really wanted to win that match today,” he said. “I think it is a very friendly rivalry that Sergio and I have. It’s hardly even a rivalry but we know we want to do the best we can and we know that we can play at a world-class level.
“We definitely push each other along and I am proud of the fact that I beat him today because he is a great match player. He has been fantastic in Ryder Cups and he plays his best under these kind of pressure situations. I just got on top of him early on with a couple of long putts in a row and it was hard for him to come back from that.”
If Scott should beat Toms, it will mean one European Tour Member guaranteed a spot in Sunday’s 36 hole final, as the winner of that match will meet the winner of the O’Hern v Poulter match in the semi-finals.
Last man into the quarter-finals was Goosen, who followed up his morning 2 and 1 success over Fred Couples with a 19th hole victory over another American, Chad Campbell, in the afternoon’s third round.
Campbell had had to go to the 24th hole in the morning’s second round to see off Spain’s Miguel Angel Jiménez, but looked poised for a quicker return against Goosen when he raced three up after ten holes.
But the European Tour Number One in 2001 and 2002 gradually pulled himself back into the match before claiming victory at the first extra hole with a stunning birdie three.
“Chad played well for the first ten holes but it turned around for me on the back nine,” he said. “At the first extra hole I hit probably the best shot I have hit all week, a nine iron to about three feet and rolled the putt in, it was nice to hole a putt at last.
“This is the furthest I have ever gotten in this event because I usually struggle here but so far so good. My wife and family have come down to our house in Orlando and as it has been a couple of weeks since I saw them. I would love to catch up with them again, but I suppose, since I have come this far, they can wait until Sunday night!”
The fourth quarter-final will be an all-American affair with Stewart Cink facing Chris DiMarco, after Cink beat Davis Love III on the 20th hole, while DiMarco got the better of Jay Haas – the morning conqueror of Number One seed Vijay Singh, by 2 and 1.