Graeme McDowell emerged as the hot favourite to claim the Volvo World Match Play Championship when Sergio García three-putted from nowhwere at the first extra hole to send the Portrush man into the last four at Finca Cortesín.
The Ulsterman ended hopes of all Spanish semi-final between Garcia and Rafael Cabrera Bello when he followed his 3 and 2 quarter-final win over Richard Finch with a dramatic and thoroughly ugly 19th hole victory over Garcia at the hilly venue near Marbella.
After missing a five foot par putt at the last in regulation to beat Garcia, McDowell holed from the same distance for his par five on their return to the 18th in extra time and watched as Garcia charged a 15 foot putt for victory four feet past and missed the return.
On course to become the first Irishman to win the Volvo World Match Play following Wentworth defeats for Padraig Harrington to Ian Woosnam in 2001 and Paul McGinley at the hands of Michael Campbell in 2005, McDowell was relieved to remain on course for his first victory since he beat Tiger Woods in a play-off for the 2010 Chevron World Challenge.
“Yeah, the result is a good result, no doubt about it. But you know, after 15 or 16 holes this morning for us both, trickier conditions this afternoon, this golf course when the architect designed it, he didn’t really envisage a 30 mph wind across. As firm as it is, it’s a really tough test.
“As I said Wayne Riley there earlier, we are in Spain and it wasn’t exactly El Clásico. Got the job done, and was disappointed there in regulation. I didn’t hit a great third shot but I thought I hit a decent first putt from off the fringe. Missread my second putt, and all of a sudden we are back to the 18th tee box.
“We both made two of the worst layups probably of all time on 18, mine from the sand. There’s no way I could stop the ball really from spinning away and Sergio hit a quality shot in there. I watched him hit that 15 footer and kind of resigned myself to the fact that I was going home and he misses it, and obviously I make my putt.
“And it’s a funny little pin position there. I said to my caddie, Kenny, as he stood over the putt, I said, ‘This putt does not break left as much as he thinks.’ I don’t want to say thankfully I was right, because like I say, you never pull against anyone, but I feel like I dodged a bullet a little bit there maybe in the playoff.
“It was a weird game. We handed it back and forth to each other. It wasn’t a quality game of golf. There were not very many birdies. It was tricky. We both hit it okay, but it was tough to make birdies on this golf course today.”
Garcia was pleased to have gone so far in the event but added: “I’m playing so badly this could happen at any moment. Making it to the quarter finals having played so badly means it was a good tournament. I had no good quality shots.
“He gave me some chances that I could not take and I have been saying it from the first day that I have not felt comfortable and I am not happy with my game.”
Cabrera Bello beat Robert Karlsson on the 18th to clinch a quarterfinal joust with compatriot Álvaro Quirós, who caused one of the upsets of the week when he saw off defending champion Ian Poulter 4 and 3,.
But it was Cabrera Bello who came out on top in the all Spanish affair by 3 and 1 to set up a meeting with McDowell in this morning’s semifinals.
Expecting a tough test against Ryder Cup hero McDowell, the 27-year-old Dubai Desert Classic winner said: “Yes, I have to play GMac and he has a lot of experience and is a Ryder Cup hero, so he’s obviously going to be a very, very tough guy to beat.
“You know, I’m going to try my best and I’m playing well. Hopefully I can start as good as I did on my first two matches and if I don’t, I know I can come from behind and make it through. So we’ll just see what happens.”
Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts put in a near faultless performance to defeat form man Justin Rose 4 and 3 in the last 16 before claiming another major scalp with another 4 and 3 win over American star Brandt Snedeker.
The 2011 Volvo China Open winner will now have the chance to avenge his defeat to Ian Poulter at the semi-final stage in 2011, with a victory against 1999 Open champion Paul Lawrie in tomorrow’s first semi-final.
“I went off on a flyer, I was just holing one birdie after another, and quickly went 4 up, but then made one or two mistakes that allowed Brandt to come back. All of a sudden, it started to get a little tenser, but then Brandt made one or two mistakes, where I took advantage. I wasn’t going to give anything away then.”
Lawrie, whose looking to mark his 500th European event with his eighth career title, got through to the last four after recording two comprehensive wins.
Following his 5 and 4 hammering of Thomas Bjorn, the 43-year old Scot didn’t drop a shot as he beat Retief Goosen 6 and 5.
Already fifth in the Ryder Cup points race and with a chance to move to second, Lawrie is not getting ahead of himself and thinking of making his first Ryder Cup appearance since 1999.
“I’m not thinking about there even if I win this week,” he insisted. “A lot of things could happen and a lot of tournaments to be played. Two or three guys could go on an unbelievable run and win two or three events, and you could easily get passed.
“If things go well tomorrow, then obviously it’s a step closer for me, but that’s all it is. I don’t see anything changing this week, even if I win, which we are a long way away from.
“I think one of the big disappointments of my career is I’ve only played once in it, so I’m keen to get in this time - especially with Ollie as Captain, I think he’s going to be magnificent as Captain.”
0845 Paul LAWRIE v Nicolas COLSAERTS
0855 Graeme MCDOWELL v Rafael CABRERA-BELLO