Golf: Scheffler, McIlroy advance to last eight at WGC Match Play

Scottie Scheffler, of the US, plays his shot from the bunker on the eighth hole, during day four of the WGC Match Play. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - Top-ranked defending champion Scottie Scheffler won three of the last four holes on Saturday to reach the WGC Match Play Championship quarter-finals while Rory McIlroy outduelled Australian Lucas Herbert.

Reigning Masters champion Scheffler, who won the Players Championship earlier this month, made a late rally to oust US compatriot JT Poston 1 up at Austin Country Club in Texas, where the last eight were set to play Saturday afternoon.

Four-time major winner McIlroy outlasted Herbert 2 up to book a last-eight date against Tokyo Olympic champion Xander Schauffele, the US sixth seed who beat JJ Spaun 3&2.

Scheffler won three of the first five holes with birdies for a 2-up edge, stumbled 2 down with a bogey at the par-5 12th but then battled back to win 15 and the par-3 17th to level the match before advancing when Poston missed a six-foot par putt at 18.

“Too many mental errors,” Scheffler said. “I’ve done a great job at this tournament over the years of staying patient and not trying to force things.

“He put the pressure on me today and I let it get the best of me but I finished strong and was able to come out with a win.”

Scheffler’s opponent for a berth in Sunday’s semi-finals will be Australian Jason Day, the 2014 and 2016 winner.

Day edged American Matt Kuchar 1 up. Kuchar, who won the 2013 Match Play, was trying to break the event match record of 36 wins he shares with Tiger Woods.

“He was tough,” Day said. “I just didn’t want to be the guy that I lost to Matt and he beat Tiger’s record.”

Day, who never trailed, sank a two-putt birdie from 15 feet to win the par-5 16th then battled Kuchar even on the last two holes.

McIlroy, the 2015 Match Play winner from Northern Ireland, never trailed in dispatching Herbert but struggled to finish off the Australian, whose long birdie putts at the par-5 16th and par-3 17th pushed McIlroy to the 18th hole.

“I got off to a really good start, but every time I hit it in close, he’d answer me with a birdie,” said McIlroy. “It was really back and forth. On that back nine I had to hole some nice putts coming in there to keep my nose in front.”

Cantlay, Homa fall

American 19th seed Kurt Kitayama, who won three weeks ago at Bay Hill, took the first two and last two holes in a 6&5 rout of countryman Andrew Putnam.

Next for Kitayama is last year’s British Open runner-up Cam Young, who beat 2021 WGC Match Play winner Billy Horschel 5&4 and seeks his first PGA victory.

Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy putts on the 17th green, during day four of the WGC Match Play. PHOTO: AFP

US 13th seed Sam Burns, who ousted fourth seed Patrick Cantlay 2&1 to extend his WGC Match Play debut, will next play Canada’s Mackenzie Hughes, who upset fifth seed Max Homa 3&2.

Burns sank a birdie putt from just inside eight feet at the par-3 17th to eliminate Cantlay.

“We had a great match,” he said. “I came out on the good side. Overall, a good match.”

Homa never pulled level with Hughes after falling 2 down with bogeys at the par-5 sixth and par-3 seventh.

“Max kept the pressure on me,” said Hughes. “My job was not to give him any holes. You felt like if you kept grinding out holes things were going to work out good.” AFP

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.