MIAMI: Top-ranked Dustin Johnson won twice in impressive fashion Saturday (Sunday in Manila) to advance into the World Golf Championships Match-Play Championship semifinals, where he will face 60th-ranked Japan Tour star Hideto Tanihara.
Reigning US Open champion Johnson defeated fellow American Zach Johnson 5 and 4, then birdied to win three of the last four holes and hold off Swedish eighth seed Alex Noren 3 and 2 in the quarter-finals at Austin (Texas) Country Club.
Johnson seeks his third title in a row after wins last month at Riviera and three weeks ago at the WGC Mexico Championship. He could become the first player to win every WGC event and match Tiger Woods as the only players to win consecutive WGC events.
“It’s a long way to go. I’ve got to make it to the finals first,” Johnson said of his chance at history. “Anything can happen. I like the way I’m playing. I like my chances.”
He will face a determined longshot in 38-year-old Tanihara, who dispatched England’s Ross Fisher 4 and 2 in the quarterfinals after defeating England’s Paul Casey 2 and 1 in the round of 16.
“There’s a lot more strategy and thinking in playing this kind of format,” said Tanihara, a 14-time Japan Tour winner in his WGC Match Play debut who hopes to crack the world top 50 and qualify for the Masters in two weeks.
“My goal is to get to the Masters. Maybe top eight would get me in. Wasn’t sure. Top four should get me in so I’m really happy.”
US 42nd seed Bill Haas held off a late charge by countryman Phil Mickelson to defeat the five-time major winner 2 and 1 and reach a Sunday semi-final against 22-year-old Spaniard Jon Rahm, the 21st seed who routed Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen 7 and 5.
“He hits the ball a long way,” Haas said. “I definitely need to be in the fairways and put the pressure on him, make him attack. He’s certainly going to be very difficult.”
Johnson, Haas hold on late
Haas and Johnson each led 3-up after nine holes but saw their matches tighten quickly before they advanced.
Johnson won the first three holes against Noren and was 3-up at the turn, but the world number one missed a short par putt to lose 10 and found the water to drop 11, then watched as Noren rolled in a stunning 40-foot birdie putt at the par-5 12th to square the match — the first time all week any foe had been level with Johnson after any hole.
Johnson, who lost to Noren in the first round of the 2013 WGC Match Play, answered with birdies at 13, 15 and 16 to seal the win.
Tanihara closed the front nine with four hole-winning birdies in a row, the longest putt from five feet, to jump 4-up on Fisher at the turn. A six-foot birdie at 13 put Tanihara 5-up and he halved Fisher three holes later to end matters.
Three-time Masters winner Mickelson had not trailed this week until Haas opened their match with a birdie. Haas birdied to win the third, fifth and sixth to seize command.
“I just felt like I needed to capitalize when I had the chances and I was able to do that,” Haas said.
Mickelson birdied to win the 10th and claimed 12 with a par, then barely missed a 12-foot birdie putt at 13 to square the match. Haas birdied to win 15, Mickelson missed a 10-foot eagle putt at 16 and could only halve 17.
“I’ve been making that putt all week,” said the 47-year-old lefthander. “I had the opportunities to match him on several holes and I didn’t make the putts.”
Rahm, who won his first PGA title in January at Torrey Pines, would be the youngest winner of any WGC event, breaking the mark Patrick Reed who was 23 when he won at Doral in 2014.
“Since (Torrey Pines), I haven’t played 13 holes like I did today — maybe ever,” Rahm said of his quarterfinal win. “I didn’t miss a shot. To play golf like that and hit the putts, it was the perfect round.”