LOS ANGELES: Defending champion Rory McIlroy advanced to the knockout stage of the WGC Match Play on Friday (Saturday in Manila) after winning a nervy sudden death play-off against Kevin Na.
McIlroy progressed to a last 16 showdown with in-form American Zach Johnson after his winner-take-all Group 3 clash with Na finished all square after 18 holes at the Austin Country Club in Texas.
After both players parred the first sudden death hole, McIlroy was handed the initiative when Na sent his drive into a hazard on the second.
McIlroy comfortably took care of business to par while Na made bogey.
“It was tough. All three of my matches this week have been pretty tough,” said a relieved McIlroy after the win.
“I didn’t get off to the best of starts again, but I found my rhythm in the middle of the round and started to make some birdies. I had a couple of chances to maybe finish him in regulation.
“It took a mistake from him to get me over the line and obviously I’m just happy to be in the weekend.”
McIlroy said he was looking forward to locking horns with 14th seed Johnson, who reached the last 16 with a 4 and 3 win over Ireland’s Shane Lowry.
“This is a golf course that sets up perfectly for Zach,” said McIlroy.
“If he can get it in play he’s going to be tough to beat. We’ve had some good battles over the years in the team format in Ryder Cup so tomorrow should be a good one.”
Johnson’s passage to the knockout rounds as Group 3 winner never looked in doubt as he raced into a commanding lead over the front nine against the Lowry.
He reached the turn at four up before a birdie on the 393-yard par four 10th took him to five up, leaving victory a formality.
Reed dominates Mickelson
In another match between unbeatens, Patrick Reed raced to a 6 up lead through nine holes over Phil Mickelson en route to a 5 and 4 victory that sent the five-time major winner packing.
Reed birdied the fourth and fifth and drained a 43-foot eagle putt at the sixth. He holed out for another eagle at the 10th and through three matches has yet to trail.
In other winner-takes-all matches, Matt Kuchar defeated England’s Justin Rose 3 and 2, Brandt Snedeker beat South African Charl Schwartzel 5 and 3 and South African Louis Oosthuizen beat England’s Andy Sullivan 4 and 2.
Oosthuizen earned a clash with world number one Jordan Spieth, who again leapt to an early lead and held on for a 3 and 2 victory over Justin Thomas.
“Jumping to a 3 up lead early on the front nine for the third straight day takes a lot of stress off,” said Spieth, who hasn’t trailed at any point this week. “I just need to be a little more disciplined as we get in the middle of the back nine.”
Australian second seed Jason Day was the first player to book his place in the last 16 after England’s Paul Casey withdrew from their final group stage match after six holes complaining of stomach cramps.
Day, who could find the extra bit of rest helpful as he nurses a sore back that flared up on Wednesday, will now face 15th-seeded Snedeker.
Bill Haas secured his passage after securing a one up victory over Australia’s Adam Scott.
Haas rolled in a 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th to secure the win.
An advances in debut
He next faces Chris Kirk, who after a 3 and 2 victory over Sweden’s David Lingmerth downed South Africa’s Branden Grace at the first hole of a sudden death playoff.
Grace, the top seed in Group 11, beat Russell Knox 5 and 4 in his final match to derail the Scot, who went into the final day of round-robin play leading the group.
Dustin Johnson, the top seed in Group 8, birdied the first playoff hole to defeat Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat and book a showdown with Reed.
Johnson had seven birdies without a bogey in a 2 and 1 victory over Jimmy Walker in his closing group match, but Kiradech forced the playoff with a 1 up win over Robert Streb.
South Korean An Byeong-Hun also advanced via a playoff after his halved match with Rickie Fowler left him tied atop Group 5 with Scott Piercy, a 1 up winner over Jason Dufner.
An birdied the first playoff hole to reach the knockout stage in his first appearance in the event and will face Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello, who won the final hole with a birdie to half his match against Soren Kjeldsen and advance.