Tiger Woods reeled off a back-nine stretch of four holes in five under par to take control of his match against Patrick Cantlay at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play – and set up a tantalising knockout contest against Rory McIlroy at Austin Country Club.
Woods, who is playing in the matchplay event for the first time in its current format, closed out his win, 4 and 3, but still needed help to advance to the weekend’s single-elimination round of 16.
He got it when Aaron Wise easily beat Brandt Snedeker 6 and 4 to push Woods through to the knockout rounds.
“I was fortunate to have won my match and needed other things to happen and fortunately Aaron won his match,” Woods said.
Woods helped his own cause by impressing on his back nine, a run that was punctuated by an eagle two on the par-four 13th hole, where he pitched in from 82 yards out, sending the crowd into a frenzy that echoed throughout the rolling layout in Texas.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 29, 2019
“I saw where the ball landed [on the green] and thought it might roll off the back,” he said. “I thought that three was going to be the number to halve the hole with [Cantlay] there, he pretty much had a guaranteed up-and-down.
“So I was just trying to get up there close and at least try and make him earn it with a three of my own, and next thing you know it falls in, so, I’ll take it.”
It was the third of four straight holes won by the 14-time major winner as he moved from one down after 10 holes to leading by three after 14.
The last time Woods, ranked 14th in the world, advanced to the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play round of 16 was in 2008, when he went on to win the event.
Meanwhile, McIlroy moved through to Saturday’s marquee matchup by remaining unbeaten in group play, defeating Matt Fitzpatrick 4 and 2.
Taking control of the match early, McIlroy — the world number four — raced out to a 3up lead through five holes. Fitzpatrick managed to cut McIlroy’s lead to two with five to play, but McIlroy immediately birdied the par-four 14th to extend his lead back to 3up and never looked back.
“It’s exciting, it’s exciting for the tournament, it’s exciting for us,” McIlroy said of his meeting with Woods. “I feel good about my game. It’s going to be one of those ones where I have to stick to my game plan.”