Starless Match Play thrilling

McClatchy news servicesFebruary 24, 2013 

The stars are gone from the Match Play Championship in Marana, Ariz. Still alive are Ian Poulter and Hunter Mahan, the best in match play over the last few years.

Poulter added to his reputation as one tough customer Saturday when he beat Steve Stricker with one big putt after another, raising his record in this fickle format to 19-3-2 over the last four years.

Mahan outlasted U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson in 18 holes, leaving Mahan two wins away from joining Tiger Woods as the only repeat winners of this World Golf Championship.

Poulter and Mahan meet this morning in the semifinals.

Matt Kuchar had no trouble against Robert Garrigus, building a 4-up lead through 10 holes and hanging on for a 3-and-2 win to reach the quarterfinals for the third straight year. He faces Jason Day of Australia, who won a tight match against Graeme McDowell in 18 holes.

Along with a perfect singles record in the Ryder Cup, Poulter has won the WGC version of the Match Play Championship and the World Match Play Championship in Spain in 2011. He wasn’t aware of his record since 2010, nor did he sound terribly surprised.

“I’m pretty proud of it,” he said. “Does it surprise me? I love match play.”

That much is becoming abundantly clear. After he pulled away from Tim Clark of South Africa in the third round Saturday morning, he faced his toughest challenge yet in Stricker, who was celebrating his 46th birthday.

The match effectively turned on the third hole. Stricker stuffed his tee shot into 6 feet, while Poulter pulled his shot about 40 feet away above the ridge. Poulter wound up making the putt, and all Stricker could do was laugh. He missed his short birdie, and the momentum shifted for good.

Poulter plays Mahan, the defending champ, who hasn’t lost any match around the world since Martin Kaymer beat him in the third round at Dove Mountain in 2011. He exacted a small piece of revenge by beating Kaymer in the third round.

In his match against Simpson, neither player led by more than one hole, and Mahan took the lead for good on the par-3 16th when Simpson missed a 10-foot par putt.

Day became the first Australian to reach the semifinals since Geoff Ogilvy won in 2009. He faces Kuchar, who lost to the eventual champion each of the last two years. Garrigus had said earlier in the week that he looked at his bracket and figured didn’t see anyone he couldn’t beat. He must have overlooked Kuchar, who birdied the ninth for a 3-up lead and never let up.

PUTNAM MAKES A MOVE

Mathew Goggin shot a 4-under 66 – the best round of the day – to move into first by two shots at the Web.com Tour’s Panama Claro Championship in Panama City.

University Place’s Andrew Putnam jumped 23 spots into a tie for 18th after his 1-under 69 left him at even par 210 and seven shots back of Goggin.

THAI TEEN LEADS LPGA

Thai teenager Ariya Jutanugarn shot a 2-under 70 to lead by three strokes over Stacy Lewis (76), Se Ri Pak (71) and Beatriz Recari (72) after the third round of the LPGA Thailand in Chonburi.

Last year’s top-ranked amateur, Ariya holed seven birdies for an 11-under 205 total at the Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course.

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