Three-time tournament winner Tiger Woods rallied to defeat Patrick Cantlay 4&2 on Friday, advancing to an electrifying Saturday knockout match against Rory McIlroy at the WGC-Match Play Championship.
The showdown of the world’s 64 top-ranked golfers at Austin (Texas) Country Club featured three days of group matches to decide 16 players for weekend knockout matches that will determine a champion.
Woods, seeded 13th, will meet fourth-seeded Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland in the round of 16 on Saturday morning. They have never met in a match-play test in Ryder Cup singles or WGC Match Play competition.
“I’ll be ready,” Woods said.
Four-time major winner McIlroy beat England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick 4&2 to complete an unbeaten sweep of his group, never trailing in any match.
“I got up early and played some good golf on the front nine,” McIlroy said. “I got scrappy toward the end but I’m through and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
“It’s exciting for the tournament. I’m sure it’s going to be exciting for us. I feel good about my game. I’m going to stick with my game plan and not look at him until I have to near the end.”
McIlroy gave a nod to his final-round duel with Woods at last year’s US PGA Tour Championship, where Woods captured his 80th career US PGA victory with a final-round surge while McIlroy struggled.
“I just hope I put up a better fight than I did in Atlanta last year,” McIlroy said.
Former world number one Woods, a 14-time major champion, split his first two matches and needed a victory plus a loss by Brandt Snedeker to reach the weekend from his all-American group.
Aaron Wise led after every hole in routing Snedeker 6&4 and Woods took care of the rest with an impressive fightback, showing the form that made him a superstar 20 years ago and helped him to WGC Match Play titles in 2003, 2004 and 2008.
Woods made bogeys at the par-5 sixth and par-4 eighth to fall 2-down to Cantlay, who gave one back with a bogey at nine.
Woods then reeled off three birdies and an eagle to win the next four holes for a 3-up edge, sinking a 21-foot birdie putt at the par-3 11th and a six-footer at the par-5 12th, then holing out from 82 yards for eagle at the par-4 13th and curling home a 20-foot birdie putt at the par-4 14th.
“Patrick got a bad break at nine. I got a free hole there,” Woods said. “I tried to carry the momentum to the back nine. I made a big putt at 11 and got it rolling from there.”
At 13, he bounced his approach onto the green and saw the crowd erupt as the ball rolled into the cup.
“I was just trying to get it up close and next thing you know it falls in,” Woods said. “I’ll take it.”
Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, seeded 37th, won three of the first four holes and never trailed in completing an unbeaten run through his group with a 5&4 win over previously unbeaten US 52nd seed Jim Furyk.