European Tour Members Retief Goosen and Ian Poulter will contest the 18 hole third and fourth place play-off match in the World Golf Championships – Accenture Match Play after both saw their challenge for the title fall in the semi-finals at La Costa Resort and Spa in California.
With both men in fine form, there was genuine hope that Sunday’s 36 hole showdown would feature two European Tour Members for the first time. But, despite both getting off to good starts, nobody had shown that particular script to their respective American opponents, Chris DiMarco and David Toms.
DiMarco recovered from being down early on to the two-time European Number One to close out the match on the 17th green by 2 and 1 while Toms, runner up to Tiger Woods in 2003, won 3 and 2, laid the foundation for his victory in an amazing spell around the turn.
So while DiMarco and Toms battle the final, Goosen and Poulter will joust, not only for third place, but also for a greater share of the world ranking points on offer and the honour of topping the European Tour Order of Merit as the season moves into March.
Yet, early on in the two semi-finals, it all looked so different as Goosen stood three up on DiMarco after six holes while Poulter stood one up on Toms after seven. But it was not to last.
Toms, who was the United States’ top points scorer in The 35th Ryder Cup Match at The Belfry in 2002, knows all about how match play contests can swing, and gave a perfect example of that with an incredible run of holes to turn the match in his favour.
Having won the eighth after Poulter found trouble, Toms’ run of amazing shots began at the ninth where he fired a superb second to four feet for a winning birdie three to take the lead for the first time in the match.
If that shot was good, his approach to the tenth was even better, firing a nine iron from 123 yards straight into the cup for an eagle two. With his momentum growing, the American then hit another stunning shot at the par five 11th, a five wood second from 234 yards to two feet to set up an eagle three.
Poulter responded bravely with a birdie three at the 12th to reduce his deficit to two, but he could not get any further holes back and when Toms rolled in an eight foot putt for a birdie two on the short 16th, the match was over.
“I was doing okay until he went mad, he just had a spell in the middle which was difficult for me, difficult to play against that, and I now know exactly how Appleby felt when I played him,” said Poulter.
“I am very disappointed, but these things happen. He outplayed me today and there was not really a lot I could do about it. When someone is holing second shots and making threes on fives then it is hard work, but there we are.
“It is a good week, but it could have been better. But it is still a good week. Let’s go out there tomorrow and try and finish third rather than fourth which will make it a little better.”
Toms said: “I finally faced a player this afternoon that I wasn’t 30 or 40 yards behind off the tee so that helped and you don’t get as frustrated as you do sometimes against the power players.
“But I played good. I had a good stretch of holes from the ninth through the 11th and I had a timely up and down for a half on the 15th before I closed out the match on the 16th. Overall I’m pleased with my performance and I’m glad to be moving on.”
In the other semi-final, Goosen stood three up after six holes but let DiMarco back into things with a bogey five on the seventh before conceding the eighth as well after losing his ball up a tree.
Incredibly, Goosen sent caddie Colin Byrne scampering up the branches to retrieve what he thought was his ball, but could only look on in disbelief when the ball dropped from the branches onto the turf, to find out, it wasn’t his!
The South African held onto his one hole lead until the 11th when a DiMarco birdie four levelled matters and from then on the American took control.
Further birdies at the 13th and 14th, the latter a pitch-in from 20 feet off the back of the green, saw him move two up and although Goosen won the 15th to halve his deficit, the match was over on the 17th when he three putted, missing his second putt from three feet.
“I got off to a good start but I knew there was a long way to go and the first few holes are pretty easy playing down wind,” said Goosen. “But from about number seven onwards I started hitting pretty bad iron shots and I was struggling to keep it on the golf course. If you do that, you are going to struggle in the match.
“Right now the wheels are a little flat and it is going to be tough to come out tomorrow and try and put something in. But third place is better than fourth so I will give it my best shot.”
DiMarco said: “My confidence wasn’t high coming into the week. I didn’t play the first three tournaments (on the US PGA Tour) and I went to The Bob Hope and made the cut just on the number.
“My ball striking wasn’t what it should have been but on Wednesday, when we had the rain-out, I went to the range and found something and since then I have been hitting a lot of quality golf shots.
“The more you do that, the more your confidence grows and as a result my putting and chipping have been very good and they were very good again against Retief. So long as I keep putting the ball in the fairway, I feel I have a very good chance and I am looking forward to tomorrow.”