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Friday, 22 February 2008

Defending champion Henrik Stenson continued his quest to emulate World Number One Tiger Woods when he moved into the quarter-finals of the WGC – Accenture Match Play at The Gallery Golf Club in Arizona.

Woods is the only player to have won the Accenture Match Play title in two successive years – in 2003 and 2004 at La Costa – and now Stenson is only three matches away from emulating the feat having moved into the last eight with a hard fought one hole victory over American Jonathan Byrd in the third round.

The Swede will be joined in the last eight at the Tucson venue by two other European Tour Members – Angel Cabrera and Vijay Singh – who beat American Steve Stricker and Australian Rod Pampling respectively.

Stenson was never behind in the match against Byrd – who had not been taken past the 14th hole in either of his opening two rounds – and made his intentions crystal clear when he eagled the opening hole to immediately move one up.

But try as he might Stenson – who had to go to the 25th in the previous round to oust Trevor Immelman – could not shake off the American until a half in par fours on the final green, after a birdie on the 17th had put him one up in the match once again.

“I have been involved in tight matches and my experience in this event is that a lot of times the matches are going to be tight regardless if both players are playing well or averagely so it has a tendency to come to the last couple of holes,” said the Swede.

“Even though I had the possibility to finish the first two matches, and today’s match, earlier than I did, I didn’t manage to do so. But I’m just happy with the way I played today and glad to be going into the fourth round.”

Stenson will now come up against American Woody Austin – who beat Boo Weekley 3 and 2 in the quarter-finals, a repeat of the first round match in last season’s HSBC World Match Play Championship tie at Wentworth Club where the Swede came out on top on the home green – although that match was over 36 holes.

Singh booked his place in the last eight after an epic tussle with Pampling, the Australian missing a six footer on the final green to win the match before bowing out seven holes later on the 25th green. Singh will now meet American Justin Leonard in the quarter-finals, the former Open champion beating Stuart Appleby 3 and 2.

Cabrera was spared the drama of the final green or extra holes in his relatively straightforward 4 and 3 dismissal of Steve Stricker. The Argentine was in superb form and rattled in six birdies in the first nine holes on his way to being four up at the turn. From there, there was no way back for the American.

“I played very well today, especially on the front nine and that is definitely what made the difference for me,” he said. “The course is perfect though and the greens are very good and very fast. I don’t play this type of golf a lot, maybe just once or twice a year, but I enjoy it very much.”

Cabrera will now face another American, Stewart Cink, in the quarter-finals, Cink having seen off the challenge of Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie by 4 and 2, the American holing crucial birdie putts on the back nine – a feat the eight time European Tour Order of Merit winner failed to do.

“I had chances on ten, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16 and missed them all,” said Montgomerie. “You can’t do that and expect to win. He putted well, putted very well. He even said he got lucky on a few of his putts and I was unlucky. That’s it.”

Also departing at the third round stage was Montgomerie’s Ryder Cup colleague Paul Casey who battled grittily against the talented Korean KJ Choi before eventually losing by two holes. The Englishman was always up against it after a blistering start from Choi who birdied the first three holes to immediately race three up.

“I birdied the fourth so at least the 10 and 8 was out of the question!” joked Casey. “But he is a very strong player as is proven by where he is in the world rankings and the tournaments that he has won and I didn’t make the putts I should have made today, simple as that.

“I pushed him all the way but they are very difficult pin positions, I will say that. Occasionally when I was close and did have birdie chances, they were difficult to make. I am happy with the way I played, I ground it out. It would have been easy to chuck in the towel after the start but I didn’t do that, I’m never going to do that. I had a chance but it just wasn’t to be.”

Choi now has the unenviable task of taking on World Number One and top seed Tiger Woods who survived an epic tussle with Australian Aaron Baddeley before eventually coming out on top on the 20th hole.

In some of the best golf seen in the tournament to date, the pair shared 22 birdies between them in the 20 holes in a match which swung one way and another before Woods eventually provided the killer blow from 13 feet on the second green.

“It was unbelievable out there,” he said. “I think I only made two mistakes to give him two holes and he did the same to me but apart from that every other hole it seemed like we birdied: I birdied, he birdied, I birdied, he birdied - it was unbelievable.”

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