Graeme McDowell lost by one hole to an excruciatingly slow Jason Day in the quarter-finals but left Dove Mountain buoyed by his best ever result in the WGC-Accenture Match Play.
“I am walking out here almost feeling triumphant,” McDowell said, half in jest, as he headed for his car. “My best ever performance at Dove Mountain. Losing in the quarter-finals feels like a success for me here.”
The 33-year old Portrush man, who had reached the third round just once in six previous appearances, was almost running on empty in terms of adrenaline after his 3 and 2 morning win over pal Shane Lowry.
It took him nine holes to get going again, but the putts that dropped for him in the morning simply dried up in the afternoon and he was edged out in a scrappy encounter that will be remembered for the Australian’s snail-like pre-shot routine.
Day’s slow play meant the pair were on the clock for the last six holes but ironically it was McDowell who was given a bad time by tour official Mark Russell when he was forced to step off his crucial approach to the 17th when a photographer moved as he prepared to pull the trigger.
With the match was all square at the time, McDowell missed the green, lost the hole to a par and then narrowly failed to repeat of the 18th hole birdie that took Alex Noren into extra holes on Friday.
The 2010 US Open champion confessed that he paid an emotional toll for his third round victory over close friend Lowry, who walked around to support him in the afternoon.
“I went back to the hotel and packed my stuff up, then I wasn’t doing anything else so I came along to support Graeme,” Lowry said. “He has been a friend of mine for years. He played better than me this morning, he deserved to win.”
Their tussle certainly took it out of McDowell, who said: “It’s like a Ryder Cup scenario. You are so fired up for it in the morning and then you have 45 minutes to turn around and it’s very hard to have that same intensity level in the afternoon.
“The front nine I felt I wasn’t my sharpest, but on the back nine I felt I got the intensity level going again. I felt good and everything but basically I didn’t make the putts.
“If I am being brutally honest, I wasn’t on the button with my golf swing this week.”
Day was also spent after his 4 and 3 third round win over Master champion Bubba Watson, conceding the first when pushed his drive into the desert and failed to make the green in three after a penalty drop.
McDowell missed a 14-foot eagle chance to go two up at the second but did so at the third when he rolled home a 20 footer.
A bogey at the fourth, where he was unlucky to see his approach roll off the green, saw his lead cut to one hole. And when he failed to take advantage of another Day mistake off the tee at the fifth by missing the green and dropping a shot himself, he had lost all momentum.
Another bogey at the seventh, where he had to carry a precipitous chip shot from a sidehill lie just a few feet to get close but semi-fluffed it, saw his lead disappear altogether.
Suddenly it was a real dogfight and while Day edged ahead with a chip and putt birdie at the 11th, McDowell halved the 13th in birdie and then won the 14th with another from eight feet to level the match again.
Day won the driveable 15th in birdie to go one up again but handed his advantage back at the 245-yard 16th when he pulled his tee shot and failed to get up and down.
In the end, McDowell’s bogey at the 17th decided the match though he was unlucky that his superb approach to the 18th rolled into the back fringe and stuck there. An ounce less pace and it would have come back off the collar of rough and rolled down to the holeside.
With Day two feet away after an excellent lag putt from the middle tier, McDowell had to hole is lightning fast 15 footer to take the match into extra holes but failed to find the line.
Day was understandably delighted to clinch a semi-final showdown with Matt Kuchar, who beat Robert Garrigus 3 and 2.
“It was very stressful out there today,” Day said. “I feel like my mind is going every which way right now. Just to play the way I did on the back nine was very, very special. The whole game today felt really, really nice, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.
“You know, myself and GMac, we really didn’t play our best, but you’ve just got to do enough. That’s because you’re just playing against a guy that’s across the tee from you.
” I’ve got Matt Kuchar tomorrow, and I know he’s very slow and steady, hits a lot of fairways and greens and can roll the rock when he can, and I’m looking forward to that.”
In the bottom half of the draw defending champion Hunter Mahan continued his impressive run at Dove Mountain with a 1 up win over US Open champion Webb Simpson.
Mahan now faces Ian Poulter, the last European standing, following his 3 and 2 win over Steve Stricker.
The hero of the 2012 Ryder Cup a Medinah was at his brilliant best all day and his description of his outrageous, 40 foot birdie putt at the third is likely to go down as one of the quotes of the week.
“Yeah, it was 40 feet, left to right, right to left, right to left again, hopefully slowing down on the ridge, taking a left‑hand turn, down the slope and then chucking a little left to right at the end to drop it. It was really nice. (Laughter.)”
Now tied for the third-best match record in the history of the WGC Match Play with 22 wins, Poulter said: “I have got a lot of confidence I feel comfortable in this format, I have a good matchplay record and that continues.
“I’m playing for myself this week. I really enjoy the fun of matchplay. As good as my record is in Ryder Cup, it doesn’t translate into playing just for yourself.
“But my record in match play is very good. I’m just very comfortable going toe to toe with somebody. You can’t get as much adrenalin going in this as you can in the Ryder Cup. But yet there’s still intense moments out there on the course to switch your brain on.”