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Thursday, 24 February 2011
Luke Donald  (Getty Images)
Luke Donald (Getty Images)

Graeme McDowell overcame Ryder Cup teammate Ross Fisher 4 and 2 to reach the last 16 of the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship for the first time – and set up an all-European top three in the Official World Golf Ranking.

The US Open Championship winner’s progress, coupled with Phil Mickelson’s 6 and 5 loss to Rickie Fowler, ensures either the Northern Irishman or Luke Donald will be in the top three with Germany’s Martin Kaymer and England’s Lee Westwood on Monday.

And Englishman Donald, who beat Ryder Cup teammate Edoardo Molinari 2 and 1 in Tucson, could make it a European one-two-three-four if he follows compatriot Ian Poulter in claiming the title on Sunday.

The last time Europeans occupied all of the top four slots on the Official World Golf Ranking was March 1992, when Wales’ Ian Woosnam, Sir Nick Faldo, Ryder Cup Captain José Maria Olazábal and Seve Ballesteros held positions one to four.

“The World Rankings make for very nice reading right now, for me and a lot of the other European guys,” said McDowell. “Of course, if someone told me at some point in my career I would be third or fourth in the world I’d be very proud of that fact, and that’s exactly how I’m feeling right now.

“But it doesn’t mean I have a God-given right to anything – I still have to keep on working incredibly hard. It would be nice to slip past Tiger, even for a little while. European golf’s the strongest it’s been for a very long time, and I’m proud to play my part in that.”

Elsewhere there was another stunning display from 17 year old Matteo Manassero, the Italian proving his first round victory over Steve Stricker was no fluke by seeing off Charl Schwartzel.

And Spain’s Miguel Angel Jiménez, 30 years Manassero’s senior, also booked a third round spot for the first time with a 4 and 2 win over Ryan Palmer.

Not that the Europeans had it all their own way though. World Number One Westwood is still to see Friday in the event after going down to Nick Watney, Rory McIlroy never got going as he was beaten 8 and 7 by Ben Crane, and Tiger Woods’ conqueror Thomas Björn was beaten on the final green by former winner Geoff Ogilvy.

Westwood was the biggest casualty on another day of shocks in the Arizona desert.

Never beyond the second round in 11 visits to the event now, the Englishman lost for the second year running to American Watney as he was beaten on the final green.

Paul Casey, runner-up the last two years, went out as well to Australian Jason Day, but there is certain to be at least one European in Saturday's quarter-finals as Donald and wonder kid Manassero won through to face each other.

Westwood, two down with five to play, birdied the 14th and should have levelled on the short 16th when Watney had two in a greenside bunker, but he three-putted from under 20 feet for a half in bogeys.

Watney missed a four footer for the match at the next, but safely two-putted the last after Westwood had failed with a 15 foot birdie attempt.

"I putted very poorly all day long," he said. "The game's in good shape, but I have just not worked hard on my putting and it showed."

Given his status in the sport now the result went down as a surprise despite his record in the tournament, but the scorelines that had everybody talking were those involving McIlroy and Mickelson.

McIlroy bogeyed the first, but then Crane charged six clear by reaching the turn in an approximate five under par 31. A par was good enough on the next and McIlroy then conceded before they even reached the 11th green.

"That was one of the best rounds I've ever played in my life," said Crane. "Rory had a couple of balls in the desert, but I played exceptional and the round went all my way."

The result stunned fellow Ulsterman McDowell. "I can't really get my head around that right now," he stated.

"This course sets up for the Rory McIlroy type driver of the ball and Ben Crane is not really known for length, but a guy who is just holing everything on you can wear you out."

As for his own 4 and 2 victory McDowell added: "It's always funny against a friend. It's difficult to get the killer instinct, that edge that you need.

"We threw each other a few holes, but thankfully I was able to hang in there and get the job done. It wasn't pretty, but sometimes you can win ugly."

He next plays Korean Y E Yang, who beat Woods head-to-head for his first Major title two years ago and today knocked out holder Poulter's conqueror Stewart Cink.

Fowler finished off Mickelson with eagles at both the 11th and 13th.

Meanwhile, Justin Rose gave second seed Martin Kaymer a really tough battle as the German World Number Two needed two extra holes to progress.

Kaymer missed a good chance to win on the first extra hole, but a simply brilliant bunker shot to tap-in distance on the long next earned him victory when Rose missed his 10 foot birdie putt.

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