Friday, 19 March 2010

Hopes of crowning a European Tour Member as champion in the World Golf Championships – Accenture Match Play ended at La Costa Resort & Spa when Retief Goosen, Padraig Harrington and David Howell all departed the tournament at the quarter-final stage.

Goosen went down 3 and 2 to American youngster Zach Johnson, Harrington fell at the hands of American Ryder Cup stalwart Davis Love III on the final green, while Howell saw his hopes extinguished by Geoff Ogilvy, the Australian taking his place in the semi-finals after closing out the match on the 19th green.

In many respects, the latter loss was the most disappointing for The European Tour contingent in Carlsbad, particularly as the Englishman had battled his way back into the match to grab the lead in the latter stages.

Despite Ogilvy’s erratic form off the tee for the majority of the contest, some sublime scrambling, allied to Howell’s inability to capitalise on any of his chances, saw the Australian hold a one hole lead through the tenth.

Howell eventually levelled matters on the 11th with a birdie four and from there on, seemed to find the putting touch which had deserted him in the early stages. He holed a 15 footer for a half in birdie three at the 13th, an identical putt at the 15th to keep the match level and then from 20 feet at the short 16th for a birdie two to move ahead for the first time.

The European Ryder Cup player had a chance to win the match at the 17th but missed from 12 feet before Ogilvy took the match into extra holes with a crucial birdie four at the 18th. It was to prove to be vital as, moments later on the first extra hole, Ogilvy rolled in a 20 foot putt for a winning birdie – his fourth consecutive victory in extra holes in this year’s event.

“I’ve had a good week and I obviously did better than I did last year but it is still disappointing because at one up with two to go, or one up with one to go, you have to fancy your chances,” said Howell. “I played nice on the back nine, but didn’t play well on the front nine – that’s the way it goes.

“The thing is, there is no-one out there at the moment that I feel I couldn’t beat. All the big guns are gone. Obviously the other guys are playing well but I did fancy my chances against anyone left in the draw. But fair play to Geoff, he was always going to be a tough match.”

At the same time as Howell was going out on the first extra hole, Harrington was exiting in dramatic fashion on the adjacent 18th. Three down in the early stages to Love, the Irishman kept plugging away and indeed, when Love bogeyed the 17th, incredibly, the match was back to all square.

But Harrington could do nothing about the way Love ended the match. Having laid up short of the green in two, the 41 year old former US PGA Champion proceed to hole his pitching wedge approach from 112 yards for an audacious eagle three.

“If you’re going to lose, I suppose that’s as good a way as any,” said a philosophical Harrington. “I was mentally prepared for Davis to get up and down from where he was and for me to hole mine and for us to go to the 19th. But I wasn’t prepared for that.

“I feel I played a little better today but what has been going wrong with my game over the past couple of days is my short game. When I struggled early on, I didn’t get up and down. Davis was playing very well and it is hard to give him three holes and expect to win.”

The curtain came down on The European Tour challenge when Goosen, who had birdied the first two holes to take an early two hole lead, was pegged back by 29 year old Zach Johnson, the American Ryder Cup hopeful carding six birdies in total in the 16 holes, although a par three was enough to win the 16th hole and the match as Goosen pushed his tee shot right of the green and failed to get up and down.

“When I made the birdies on the first couple of holes I thought I might finally be starting to make some putts because I haven’t done anything on the greens all week here,” said Goosen. “But though I tried hard after that, nothing went in.

“But these things happen. Putting is the way you win match play matches and Zach putted very well today, he made a lot of good putts, and that is why I lost.”

The semi-final line-up sees Love III play Johnson, while Ogilvy plays US Ryder Cup Captain Tom Lehman, who continued to prove he might well be in the American’s Team at The K Club rather than on the sidelines, with a 21st hole success over fellow countryman Chad Campbell.

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