MARANA, Arizona (AP) ― The love-hate relationship Ernie Els has with the Match Play Championship is taking a major turn for the better.
Els made a birdie from the desert on the par-5 eighth hole to take the lead for good Saturday against 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, reaching the semifinals in this fickle tournament for the first time in 13 years.
It was the first time all week that Els made more birdies than bogeys, yet he somehow has survived.
“At times I haven’t played my best, as you guys have well-documented and know,” Els said with a laugh. “But it’s match play. I’ve just done enough to get through.”
Graeme McDowell was the only other player with greater fortune on his side, but that ended Saturday.
McDowell had reached the quarterfinals even though he never led a single hole while any of his three matches were in progress. Just his luck, he finally took a lead and wound up losing the match to Victor Dubuisson of France.
Typical of his week, it went down to the wire. They were all square with five holes remaining when Dubuisson hit a beautiful chip from the rough in front of a corporate suite behind the 16th green and saved par, while McDowell missed a 6-foot par putt to fall behind.
After matching pars on the 17th, Dubuisson’s shot into the 18th rolled off the false front. He chipped perfectly and was conceded his par, and McDowell then missed a 25-foot putt to extend the match.
“Lucky, lucky to even be here today,” McDowell said. “But actually played quite nicely most of the day. It all boiled down to my putter actually let me down.”