Tiger Woods sent fans into a frenzy Friday with a sublime stretch of golf that left them wanting more at the Dell Technologies Match Play.
And that’s what they’ll get.
Woods won four straight holes with three birdies and an 83-yard lob wedge that spun back into the hole for an eagle , carrying him into the weekend with a 4-and-2 victory over Patrick Cantlay.
“Just got hot right when I needed it,” Woods said.
It gets even better: Next up for Woods is Rory McIlroy, the hottest player in golf.
McIlroy won his group by beating Matt Fitzpatrick, 4 and 2. Not only was it McIlroy’s third victory in as many matches this week at Austin Country Club, he has never trailed and has led in 37 of the 42 holes he has played.
Woods and McIlroy have never faced with other in match play. The last time they squared off was in the final round last year at the Tour Championship, where Woods capped off his comeback season with a victory.
“I just hope I put up a better fight than I did in Atlanta last year,” McIlroy said. “I didn’t have much of a game that day. But yeah, look, it’s exciting. It’s exciting for the tournament. I’m sure it’s going to be exciting for us. I feel good about my game. I played well all year. I’ve continued to do that this week. So it will be exciting.”
Henrik Stenson emerged from the group of major champions by beating Jim Furyk, while Matt Kuchar birdied the last hole to tie Jon Rahm and win his group.
The 16 group winners advance to single elimination Saturday morning.
One match dwarfed them all. Woods hasn’t competed in Texas since 2005, and he hasn’t been in the Match Play since 2013. He had to beat Cantlay and have Aaron Wise knock off Brandt Snedeker to have any chance of advancing.
Cheers of “Go Tiger!” often were followed with “Go Aaron Wise.”
Woods gave away holes with a poor flop shot behind the sixth green and a mediocre chip on No. 8 to fall 2 down. Cantlay, whose tee shot on No. 9 took a hard hop and wound up in the ravine, still had a 1-up lead when it all turned on the par-3 11th.
Woods holed a 20-foot birdie putt to square the match. Then, he made a 7-foot birdie putt to take the lead.
And then it was time for a decision.
The 13th hole played only 276 yards, all over water, a stiff breeze into them. Woods could tell Cantlay was leaning toward driver, and he opted to hit iron off the tee. Cantlay’s drive was settled in a knob above the green, 40 feet from the hole for a chance at eagle.
“I knew I needed to put it up there to at least have a chance at 3, to force him to have a good pitch,” Woods said.
It worked out to perfection. The ball stopped about 5 feet behind the hole on its second bounce and gently spun back toward the hole as fans in the double-decker hospitality tent behind the green rose to their feet and let out the loudest cheer of the day when it dropped.
Woods wasn’t through. He holed a 20-foot birdie putt on the 14th to go 3 up with four holes to play, and there were delayed cheers from every corporate chalet along the back nine from fans watching on television.
Woods still needed help and says he didn’t bother looking at scoreboards to check on the Snedeker match. It was a mismatch. Wise never trailed, was 2 up at the turn and won four of the next five holes to close out Snedeker.
McIlroy, coming off a victory in The Players Championship in his last start, has played so well this year that he has a chance to return to No. 1 in the world if he were to win this World Golf Championship.
He still has to win four matches, starting with a big one Saturday morning.
“We’ve played tournaments together, battled each other down the stretch at event, but never in a match-play situation,” Woods said. “It’ll be fun.”
Stenson prefers single elimination to group play, one reason he has skipped the Match Play the last three years. Now he’s in the knockout stage, facing Lucas Bjerregaard, the Dane who won his group featuring Justin Thomas.
“Nothing I’ve done these first three days is going to matter when we tee it up tomorrow,” Stenson said.
In other matches:
— Marc Leishman easily disposed of Bryson DeChambeau to reach the Round of 16 for the third time in five years.
— Sergio Garcia lost his match to Patrick Reed and still advanced.
— Branden Grace advanced out of the No. 1 group with a 3-0 record, while top seed Dustin Johnson failed to reach the weekend for the second straight time.
SOURCE: DOUG FERGUSON, AP