AUSTIN (AFP) - Former world number one Dustin Johnson recovered from an early deficit to defeat Brooks Koepka and reach the semi-finals of the PGA Tour’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Texas on Saturday (March 26).
Johnson relied on a red-hot putter to battle back from two holes down early on to grind out a 2-up victory over Koepka, who had advanced to the last eight at the Austin Country Club after eliminating current world number one Jon Rahm in the last 16 earlier Saturday.
The 37-year-old Johnson – a winner of the WGC Match Play in 2017 – was forced onto the back foot early on after four-time major winner Koepka picked up birdies on the second and third holes to go 2-up.
Koepka’s lead was trimmed to one at the turn after a disastrous three-putt on the par-3 seventh hole.
Johnson then drained a 14-foot birdie putt on the 11th to tie it up, and kept the match all square with a nerveless 12-footer on the 12th to save par.
With little to separate the two men down the stretch, the deadlock was broken on the 15th when Johnson brilliantly rolled in a 27-foot birdie putt to take the lead for the first time in the match.
After matching each other par-for-par on the 16th and 17th, Koepka went to the par-4 18th knowing he would need something special to force sudden death.
But it was Johnson who threw down the gauntlet, crushing a drive 353 yards onto the green to set up a birdie that sealed victory.
“Felt like I’m playing really good golf,” Johnson said afterwards.
“I like this golf course ... if you’re hitting good shots, then you can shoot some good scores. I like the way I’m hitting the ball right now.
“I feel like I’m controlling the golf ball pretty well. I’m hitting a lot of quality golf shots and giving myself a lot of looks. That’s what you’ve got to do in match play.” - Scheffler eyes top spot - Johnson will play last year’s beaten finalist Scottie Scheffler in Sunday’s semi-finals.
Scheffler, who eliminated defending champion Billy Horschel in the last 16 earlier Saturday, advanced to the last four with a 3&2 win over Ireland’s Seamus Power.
Scheffler clinched victory in spectacular fashion, pitching in from 91 feet for an eagle three on the par-5 16th.
The Austin Country Club is a home-from-home for the 25-year-old Scheffler, who played regularly on the course during his college career at the University of Texas.
“I think it’s fun. You can play some aggressive golf, you can play conservative,” Scheffler said.
“There’s a few different ways you can kind of plot your way around here. It gets challenging when it’s this firm and you’ve got the wind blowing.” Scheffler is in blistering form this season with two wins already on the PGA Tour at the Phoenix Open and Arnold Palmer Invitational.
A victory in Austin could see him overtake Rahm as world number one.
On the other side of the draw, Kevin Kisner will play Canada’s Corey Conners in Sunday’s other semi-final after a comfortable 4&3 win over Will Zalatoris.
Conners advanced to the last four after beating Mexico’s 15th seed Abraham Ancer 2 up.
Ancer had looked to be in blistering form earlier Saturday after routing world number two and second seed Collin Morikawa in the last 16.
Ancer roared into a 5-up lead after nine holes to set up his 7&6 victory over the reigning British Open champion.