Ian Poulter turned two down against defending champion Hunter Mahan as the Englishman’s hopes of regaining the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship faltered.
The 2010 winner, sporting a red driver with matching shoes, parred the first three holes in Arizona, but Mahan – who has not trailed in a contest at this event since last year’s opening round - birdied the second to go one up in their semi-final.
Poulter drove into the lip above a bunker at that hole and was forced to lay-up, while Mahan found a greenside bunker in two and was able to get up-and-down.
The Englishman was flying the flag for European hopes after Graeme McDowell’s quarter-final exit to Jason Day.
After stealing a half at the third with a brilliant up-and-down from the bunker, a par was good enough for Ryder Cup star Poulter to draw level at the fourth after defending champion Mahan pulled his approach into sand and needed two attempts to escape.
Parity was short lived, however. At the fifth Poulter drove into a bunker, hit his second into the desert, and could only push his third into more rough; Mahan’s routine par giving him the hole.
Poulter’s inability to find a first birdie of the day cost the 37 year old again at the long eighth – after losing position with his second he could only make par and Mahan flopped his third stone dead to go two up.
Having driven beautifully all week, it was a surprise to all concerned when Mahan hit his tee shot into a bunker at the ninth.
He was forced to lay up with his second, but produced a fantastic third to two feet for a half.
A uncharacteristic miss from inside ten feet cost Poulter the chance to win the tenth with a par, and when Mahan brilliantly chipped in for a two at the 11th it spelt real trouble for the World Number 13 at three down with six to play.
Kuchar handed Day a lifeline at the tenth when he was unable to retrieve his drive from thick desert scrub, but when Day took five shots just to find the green on the 13th his opponent restored his three up advantage.