Teenager Rory McIlroy secured a place in the World Golf Championships - Accenture Match Play quarter-finals with an assured 4 and 3 win over Tim Clark, as four European Tour Members progressed to the last eight.
Clark had been too strong for World Number One Tiger Woods in the second round but in 19 year old McIlroy he came across a third round opponent right on top of his game after winning his maiden European Tour title at the Dubai Desert Classic earlier in the year.
There's been plenty of hype surrounding the Northern Irish teenager on his professional debut in America, and judging by his performance so far, it is fully justified. Ernie Els went so far as to say we could be looking at the next World Number One.
"He's got a lot of confidence going now, and obviously the win in Dubai was big for him. Got that little monkey off his back, because he's been in contention quite a few times in the last six months.
"So he's comfortable now. He's hungry, as we say. So he's going to be a major factor in world golf. I think that you're probably looking at the next Noumber One in the world with him. He's got all the tools."
England’s Ross Fisher also booked his place in the last eight with a 4 and 3 victory over Jim Furyk but there was a setback for his compatriot Luke Donald, who conceded his match with Ernie Els on the 18th tee after complaining of weakness in his left wrist - the same joint that required surgery last year and caused him to miss the latter half of last season.
The concession came with Donald still in with a chance of taking his match to extra holes, as he had done in beating Vijay Singh in round two. He was trailing one down to Els at the last, but the Englishman called it quits in order to prevent further damage, handing the South African victory.
“I didn’t want to risk it,” Donald said immediately afterwards. “I hit my tee shot on 17 and for the first time since coming back I felt a little twinge in my wrist. It didn't feel great when I hit that bunker shot, either. So rather than risk it, I wanted to play it safe and concede the match to Ernie.
“When I rotate the wrist I feel a little bit of a popping sensation. I didn’t get to that stage but it felt a little bit weak and I didn’t feel like I could make a full, proper swing.”
Fisher, meanwhile, was celebrating his third round 4 and 3 victory over former US Open Championship winner Furyk, a day after crushing American Pat Perez 6 and 5 in the second round.
“It was a great achievement to get through,” Fisher said, “but I knew playing a guy like Jim it was going to be a very difficult match.
“He's a great player, he's a Major winner, he's Mr Ryder Cup; you know, he's a gritty competitor.
“So I knew it was going to be a very difficult match, but I felt very comfortable and confident going into it.
“My game's been in really, really good shape this week. I feel like the course suits me very, very well. I just knew I had to come out and play some solid golf.”
McIlroy continued his dream American debut when he booked a place in the quarter-finals.
The Northern Ireland teenager, in his first start as a professional in the United States, made it three wins in as many days.
Clark had cut short Woods’ comeback from an eight month injury lay-off with a 4 and 2 victory over the World Number One at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club but that victory clearly took its toll and McIlroy capitalised to the full.
“I think yesterday obviously playing on so much adrenaline it's tough to come out today,” Clark said. “And I just felt a little bit flat. Rory played really well.”
The World Number 17 jumped into a lead at the opening hole as Clark bogeyed the par four first and the Irishman stretched his lead with a birdie four at the second to go two up.
McIlroy quickly established a stranglehold on the match by going four up after six holes before Clark won his first hole at the seventh.
The Dubai Desert Classic winner hit straight back with a birdie at the eighth to regain his four up lead and maintained it to claim victory at the 15th.
“I think Tim didn't play his best golf,” McIlroy said. “Understandably he was probably a little flat after all that happened yesterday and I came out and got off to quite a fast start and got an early lead, and I was able to hang on and get the win.
“It's great, fantastic.”
McIlroy now plays 2006 winner Geoff Ogilvy in the last eight after the Australian beat Camilo Villegas of Colombia 2 and 1.
Fisher faces Justin Leonard who ended Oliver Wilson’s giant killing run with a win at the 19th hole and Paul Casey made it two Englishmen in the last eight with a 3 and 2 victory over Sweden’s Peter Hanson. He now plays Sean O’Hair, the American who defeated Ian Poulter 2 and 1.
Stewart Cink won the battle of the Americans with Phil Mickelson, one up, and will play Els.
“Stewart is playing very well, hit a lot of good shots, made some good putts, the front nine especially,” Mickelson said.
“I think he's going to be tough to beat and certainly was tough for me.”