Shane Lowry remained on course for a Volvo World Match Play final showdown with Graeme McDowell after sneaking through a nervy sudden death playoff in Bulgaria.
The Offaly man lost by 3 and 2 George Coetzee in the morning but then crushed Ryder Cup star Peter Hanson 5 and 4 to leave all three players tied with one win apiece.
A play off was required to determine which two players would advance to the last 16 and after all three parred the first, Lowry hit a five iron to seven feet at the par-thre second and birdied before Hanson’s par three eliminated Coetzee.
Lowry punched the air in delight, then hugged proud dad Brendan on the buggy ride back to the clubhouse after clinching a victory that puts him out course for some big world ranking points if he can beat Thomas Aiken this morning.
“It was a bit of a rollercoaster of a day,” Lowry told European Tour Radio. “I played George this morning, played okay but struggled on the greens and got beaten there.
“I knew I needed to go out and do a job against Peter in the afternoon and managed to play lovely and hole a few putts and win nice and early.”
As for the play-off, Lowry felt sorry for Coetzee, who sat out the morning and was caught cold in the afternoon.
“Peter and I had a bit of an advantage going to the first. Played the first nicely, missed a birdie putt and hit a beautiful five iron into six or eight feet on the second and holed it, so happy enough.
“George was unlucky the way it worked out. He’s got the whole afternoon in his room and we have seen the second hole already. We’ve hit the shot and it was pretty much the same club as we played earlier on. I knew it was a nice, perfect five iron.”
Asked how he re-grouped after losing to Coetzee in the morning, Lowry explained: “I had a chat to my coach on the phone at lunchtime. I really, really struggled on the greens and my confidence was really low. But he just gave me a few pointers - he knows me inside out at this stage.”
Delighted to be through to the last 16 against Aiken, Lowry said: “I can’t wait to get back out there. It’s beautiful. One major bonus is you get to play that golf course again. It’s a great place and it’s great to be here”
McDowell beat Stephen Gallacher 4 and 2 despite seeing his four up lead through seven holes reduced to the minimum at the 11th.
“It ended up being a lot harder work than I envisaged,” said the world No 8, the highest ranked player in the field.
“I got off to a really nice start and then hit my tee shot right on nine and lost the next three holes onthe spin. I steadied the ship coming in and Stephen returned the favour with a couple of bad tee shots of his own. You really have to keep the ball in play and if you do that, you can wear your opponent down.
“I was really happy with the way I played on and off today. I have played well the last two days now. This golf course sets up for my ball flight because I can fade it off the tee and aim away from trouble on the way out and really hold it up against that right to left slope on the way in.”
Set to face American Bo Van Pelt in the last 16, McDowell is feeling confident on a punishing course that suits his straight hitting style.
“Accurate driving gets rewarded around here and I am liking the way things are set up,” he said. “You don’t want to be slipping into the weekend without being tested. You need someone to test you, get the juices flowing and realise that these guys are good players and you need to be on the ball.”
Defending champion Nicolas Colsaerts isnuck into the knock-out stages in the same fashion as he did 12 months ago.
Beaten by Branden Grace on Thursday, he won his second group match on Friday morning against Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat.
Colsaerts and McDowell could meet in this year’s quarter final if they win their respective matches against Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño and Van Pelt on Saturday morning.
After Ian Poulter’s shock exit following defeats to Thongchai Jaidee and Thomas Aiken, McDowell is now the favourite to take home the title, and the Northern Irishman is feeling good about his chances at the stunning Thracian Cliffs Golf and Beach Resort.
“These group stages can be kind of a banana skins and you have to knuckle down and get through and get into the real stuff this weekend,” McDowell said.
Volvo World Match Play Championship – Day 2 results
Brett RUMFORD bt Jamie DONALDSON 5&3;
Scott JAMIESON bt Carl PETTERSSON 1 up;
Francesco MOLINARI bt Felipe AGUILAR 4&3;
Nicolas COLSAERTS bt Kiradech APHIBARNRAT 3&2;
Richard STERNE bt Geoff OGILVY 5&4;
George COETZEE bt Shane LOWRY 3&2;
Thongchai JAIDEE bt Thomas AIKEN 1 up;
Chris WOOD bt Stephen GALLACHER 2&1;
Gonzalo FDEZ-CASTANO bt Brett RUMFORD 3&2;
Scott JAMIESON bt Thorbjorn OLESEN 5&3;
Felipe AGUILAR bt Henrik STENSON 3&1;
Branden GRACE halved with Kiradech APHIBARNRAT;
Bo VAN PELT halved with Geoff OGILVY;
Shane LOWRY bt Peter HANSON 5&4;
Thomas AIKEN bt Ian POULTER 1 up;
Graeme McDOWELL bt Stephen GALLACHER 4&2
Last 16 draw:
Branden GRACE v Brett RUMFORD
Richard STERNE v Chris WOOD
Francesco MOLINARI v Carl PETTERSSON
Shane LOWRY v Thomas AIKEN
Scott JAMIESON v Felipe AGUILAR
Thongchai JAIDEE v Peter HANSON
Gonzalo FDEZ-CASTANO v Nicolas COLSAERTS
Graeme McDOWELL v Bo VAN PELT