AUSTIN: Justin Thomas won twice on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) to move one triumph from the world number one ranking and into a semifinal against two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson at the WGC Match-Play Championship.
Second seed Thomas, who won his first major title at last August’s PGA Championship, routed South Korean Kim Si-woo 6&5
in the round of 16 and saw off fellow American Kyle Stanley 2&1 in the quarter-finals at Austin Country Club.
If he beats Watson on Sunday, Thomas will play in the afternoon for the crown against the winner of the other semi-final between Swede Alex Noren and American Kevin Kisner.
“All I can do is go play the best I can,” Thomas said. “(Bubba) has been showing some really good form. He’s a really great player. I have to hope he doesn’t have a hot day.”
Watson, seeded 35th, edged Brian Harman 2&1 in the round of 16 and ousted Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat 5&3 in the quarterfinals.
“We were just trying to put the ball in position, trying to give us the best birdie chances. The pin placements are in some tough spots around here,” said Watson, whose only other semi-final run ended in a 2011 loss to Germany’s Martin Kaymer.
Top-ranked Dustin Johnson crashed out in group play to give the number-one opportunity to Thomas, who along with Noren were the only group top seeds to advance.
With the start of the Masters looming on April 5 at Augusta National, Thomas could join Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth in reaching world number one before the age of 25.
Thomas is seeking his ninth career PGA title and fourth in seven months after wins at TPC Boston last September, the CJ Cup in South Korea last October and the Honda Classic last month.
Kisner thrashed Ian Poulter 8&6 in the quarter-finals, the most lopsided win ever so deep into the event, after edging compatriot Matt Kuchar 1 up.
Noren, seeking his first US PGA victory, eliminated Patrick Reed 5&3 in the round of 16 and downed Australian Cameron Smith 4&2 in the quarter-finals.
Thomas and Stanley were all square after nine but Thomas won the next three holes.
Stanley answered by winning 13 on an 11-foot birdie putt but they halved the next four holes as Thomas advanced.
Noren led Smith, the only debutant in the last eight, after every hole. Smith was 2-down when he missed a six-foot birdie putt at the par-5 12th, hurling his ball in frustration at missing a chance to close the gap.