Tiger Woods held his nerve and profited from a Rory McIlroy meltdown as the American booked a WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play quarter-final.
The 14-time major winner was three up after 11 holes but looked set to be pegged back to all square by the 16th, only for McIlroy to lose his head and surrender all the momentum.
Saturday’s defeat of McIlroy will increase the hype around Woods’ Masters hopes, with the Northern Irishman is also expected to challenge at Augusta after claiming the Players Championship title his month.
Woods will now face Lucas Bjerregaard in Austin after the Dane’s 3 and 2 win over Henrik Stenson.
Fantastic finish to a fantastic battle.@TigerWoods closes out Rory McIlroy 2 & 1 with a clutch up-and-down on 17.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 30, 2019
Woods won back-to-back holes with birdies at the fifth and sixth as McIlroy’s putting frailties began to show.
Both saw birdie opportunities at nine pass them by following excellent approaches, but it was at the next hole that McIlroy appeared to lose his grip on the contest.
After conceding Woods’ short par putt, McIlroy was made to play his from no more than three feet – and he lipped out, leaving him three down.
McIlroy finally showed signs of life when he narrowly missed a chipped eagle attempt at 12, with Woods conceding the short putt and missing his own birdie effort to give one back.
High winds and heavy rain then began to play a part, Woods sending a wedge long and failing to recover as suddenly the momentum was with McIlroy, who halved the deficit.
Woods recovered well from a wayward tee shot at the 15th before driving into the lip of a bunker at 16, but McIlroy endured a worse nightmare that proved pivotal.
His approach was short and wide, while his third shot raced through the back of the green and he took a drop from his original lie on the front edge of a bunker, scuffing it into another sand trap before conceding the hole.
A stunning Woods up-and-down birdie on the penultimate green finally put the contest to bed.
Beaten 2018 finalist Kevin Kisner wasted no time in downing Li Haotong 6 and 5, while Francesco Molinari was similarly ruthless in defeating Ryder Cup team-mate Paul Casey 5 and 4.
Kisner will now face Louis Oosthuizen, a 2 and 1 winner over Marc Leishman, while Open champion Molinari meets Kevin Na.
Na beat Justin Rose 2 up, while Matt Kuchar’s 4 and 3 win against Tyrrell Hatton secured him a clash with Sergio Garcia, who defeated Branden Grace 1 up.