McIlroy through to WGC Match Play semi-finals; meets new world No 1 Jason Day
Rory McIlroy. Picture: Getty Images

Rory McIlroy. Picture: Getty Images

European Tour regulars Rory McIlroy, Spaniard Rafa Cabrera-Bello and South African Louis Oosthuizen all made it through to the semi-finals of the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship. writes the European Tour.

Defending champion McIlroy extended his unbeaten run in the competition to 12 matches, first seeing off Zach Johnson by one hole and then cruising to a 4&3 victory over Chris Kirk.

The Northern Irishman next faces Jason Day, who will return to the World Number One spot on Monday after easing past Brandt Snedeker and Brooks Koepka.

Cabrera-Bello had a slice of fortune when Byeong Hun An retired on the 12th hole with a neck injury in the last 16, and he made the extra rest count by downing Ryan Moore 2&1 in the afternoon with a hugely impressive display.

An added bonus for the 30 year old is that he will move into the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking on Monday, thus guaranteeing his first appearance in the Masters in two weeks’ time.

Next up for Cabrera-Bello is Oosthuizen, who was ruthless in his dispatching of Jordan Spieth 4&2 in the last 16 and equally efficient in seeing off Dustin Johnson 2&1, closing out the win with a superb 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole.

Rory McIlroy

“I played very well this afternoon. I think it’s the best I've played all week, and obviously the score reflects that. I feel like each and every day I’ve improved a little bit. I think I made six or seven birdies out there this afternoon. I said to myself I needed to be a little more aggressive, take a few more pins on, not be quite as conservative. It’s sometimes hard to do that on this course because of where the pin positions are and because there’s quite a bit of trouble around the greens. But I took a few more shots on and I was a little more aggressive and it definitely paid off.

“Even if tomorrow doesn’t quite go the way I want it to, I feel like I’ve still made a lot of great strides forward this week. It’s a big match tomorrow. He’s two in the world {her was about to become No 1], I’m three. I’m excited about playing him.”

Rafa Cabrera-Bello

“It was a hard day. It was tough out there with the wind. The difference was I just holed a few clutch putts and hit really good wedges into the greens. I gave myself birdie chances and I made a few of them. I knew if I won this morning’s match I’d get in to the Masters. It’s the only Major I haven’t played in yet and it’s the one that made me want to become a professional golfer. I wore green today to inspire me and remind me what was at stake.

“Louis and I have played together a few times. I’m sure we both have good admiration and friendship for each other. I know he’s a fantastic player. I'll just go out there, focus on my game, try to play the best I can. And I believe that if I do that well, I can beat anyone here.”

Louis Oosthuizen

“I had two tough matches today. I was focused quite a bit this morning and wanted to give myself a good opportunity to have a shot against Jordan. This afternoon I was a little bit more relaxed and played some good golf. It was a huge match for me this morning. Jordan is obviously someone who's been playing unbelievable golf and number one in the world. And I wanted to be really prepared for it this morning and stay in the moment and not do something silly. I made good putts when I needed to and just played solid golf.

“Dustin is a great player, but unfortunately for him he missed quite a few opportunities for birdies on the back nine. I just wanted to go through to tomorrow and see if I can get into the final. I’m playing pretty solid golf and I just need to rest up tonight and be mentally prepared for tomorrow. It’s going to be another long day.”

Elimination Play (Rounds 5-6-7)

Form of Play: Match Play

Settling of Ties: Matches all square after 18 holes during Rounds 5, 6 and 7 shall be extended as many holes as are required for a match to be won. Fifth and subsequent round matches all square after 18 holes will be extended to holes 12 through 18 with the sequence repeated if necessary until a winner is determined.

Four Americans players faced four international players in the Quarterfinals of the Dell Match Play with each of the American players suffering defeats. This is the second time in tournament history that four international players have reached the Semifinals. The last time four international players were in the Semifinals at the Dell Match Play was 2010 when Ian Poulter (England) defeated Sergio Garcia (Spain), 7 and 6, while Paul Casey (England) won in 24 holes over Camilo Villegas (Colombia).

Match 105 – Rory McIlroy (3) def. Chris Kirk (54), 4 and 3

McIlroy, who never trailed in the match, was all square with Kirk thru nine holes before McIlroy applied the pressure with birdies at 10 and 12 to win both holes. McIlroy drove just over the back edge of the short, par-4 13th green and when Kirk spun his approach back into the water hazard, McIlroy claimed the hole with another birdie to go 3 up with five holes remaining. After a par to halve No. 14, McIlroy closed out the match with a birdie putt from 5’ 7” to win 4 and 3.

McIlroy’s path to the quarterfinals

  • G1 defeated Thorbjorn Olesen (64), 1-up
  • G2 defeated Smylie Kaufman (46), 2 and 2
  • G3 halved with Kevin Na (26)
  • *McIlroy beat Na on the second playoff hole with a par
  • R4 defeated Zach Johnson (14), 1-up
  • R5 defeated Chris Kirk (54), 4 and 3

Rory McIlroy has 11 wins and one halve in his last 12 matches at the Dell Match Play dating back to last year’s win at Harding Park. McIlroy’s overall record now stands at 22-6-1 in the event, putting him in a share of fourth-most wins (with Stewart Cink) in tournament history.

Player   Wins

  • Tiger Woods 33
  • David Toms 24
  • Ian Poulter 23
  • Stewart Cink  22
  • Rory McIlroy 22
  • Matt Kuchar  20
  • Paul Casey  20

McIlroy has 11 career victories, and is looking to join Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus as the only players since World War II to record 12 victories before turning 27. McIlroy turns 27 on May 4 this year.

McIlroy won the Dell Match Play last year and the Bridgestone Invitational in 2014. Only Geoff Ogilvy (3) and Tiger Woods (18) have more than two World Golf Championships wins.

McIlroy meets Jason Day in the Sunday morning Semifinal and it will be the second time that McIlroy has faced an Australian opponent in this event. McIlroy lost to Geoff Ogilvy, 2 and 1, in the Quarterfinals in 2009.

Match 106 – Jason Day def. (2) Brooks Koepka (18), 3 and 2

Day birdied the third hole to take an early lead then briefly trailed thru 6 when Koepka posted back-to-back birdies at Nos. 5 and 6 for wins. Day continued his flawless play with birdies at the eighth and 10th holes and added an eagle at the par-5 12th hole, holing a putt from 11 feet to move to 2 up. A par for a win at No. 15 left Day 3 up with three holes to play and he closed the match with another par on 16 to defeat Koepka 3 and 2.

Day’s path to the quarterfinals

  • G1 defeated Graeme McDowell (62), 3 and 2;
  • G2 defeated Thongcha Jaidee (36), 5 and 3
  • G3 defeated Paul Casey (23), concession
  • R4 defeated Brandt Snedeker (15), 3 and 2
  • R5 defeated Brooks Koepka (18), 3 and 2

Following Jordan Spieth’s loss to Louis Oosthuizen in R4, Jason Day’s victory over Brooks Koepka in R5 will see him return to the No. 1 position in the Official World Golf Ranking. Day first gained the No. 1 spot following his win at last year’s BMW Championship during the FedExCup Playoffs. He held the No. 1 spot for one week.

Day meets McIlroy in Sunday morning’s Semifinal. Both are major champions and both are the most recent winners of the Dell Match Play – McIlroy claimed this title last year while Day won in 2014.

Match 107 – Rafa Cabrera Bello (52) def. Ryan Moore (45), 2 and 1

Cabrera Bello was conceded the opening hole of the match and never trailed after that. With birdies for wins at Nos. 5 and 6, Cabrera Bello took a 2 up lead then lost the eighth hole with a bogey. The par-5 12th was halved with birdies before Cabrera Bello hit his approach to tap-in range on 15 to regain a 2 up lead. After driving into a water hazard on 16, Cabrera Bello holed a 7’4” putt to halve the hole before defeating Moore, 2 and 1, at the 17th hole.

Cabrera Bello’s path to the quarterfinals

  • G1 defeated Hideki Matsuyama (12), 1-up

  • G2 defeated Kevin Kisner (20),  4 and 3
  • G3 halved with Soren Kjeldsen (43)
  • R4 defeated Byeong-Hun An (27), concession
  • R5 defeated Ryan Moore (45), 2 and 1

A two-time winner on the European Tour, Cabrera Bello is playing in the Dell Match Play for the third time in his career and the first since 2013. He lost in the first round to Jason Day in 2012 and in the second round in 2013 to Martin Kaymer.

Cabrera Bello has played well this year with two runner-up finishes on the European Tour. The Spaniard finished two shots behind Branden Grace at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters and one shot behind Danny Willett at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

Cabrera Bello has played one PGA TOUR event this season, finishing T11 at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship.

By advancing to the quarterfinals, Cabrera Bello has guaranteed himself of moving into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking and thereby secures a spot in The Masters, the only major championship in which he is yet to compete. Cabrera Bello has played The Open Championship four times and the U.S. Open four times. He has also contested two PGA Championships. His best result in a major is T21 at The Open Championship in 2013.

Cabrera Bello meets Louis Oosthuizen in the Semifinals.

Match 108 – Louis Oosthuizen (16) def. Dustin Johnson (8), 2 and 1

Oosthuizen lost the second hole to a Johnson birdie and did not gain the lead in the match until No. 11 when he made a par to win the hole and go 1 up. Both players bogeyed the par-5 12th hole before Oosthuizen doubled his lead with a birdie at No. 15 from three feet. A Johnson birdie at No. 16 won the hole. When Oosthuizen made a 21’ 3” birdie putt on 17 he watched Johnson’s attempt from 7 feet miss the hole and the match was won 2 and 1.

Oosthuizen’s path to the quarter finals

  • G1 defeated Matt Jones (61), 2 and 1
  • G2 defeated Bernd Wiesberger (35), 2 and 1
  • G3 defeated Andy Sullivan (29), 4 and 2
  • R4 defeated Jordan Spieth (1), 4-up
  • R5 defeated Dustin Johnson (8), 2 and 1

This is the first time in his seventh Dell Match Play appearance that Oosthuizen has reached the Semifinals. He lost in the Quarterfinals the past two years - to Jason Day, 2 and 1, in 2014 and Jim Furyk, 4 and 2, last year.

Oosthuizen defeated Dustin Johnson for the second time in recent months. Oosthuizen and fellow South African Branden Grace beat Dustin Johnson, who was paired with Jordan Spieth, 4 and 3, in the Friday four-ball matches at The Presidents Cup last year.

Player                                      Standing                       Points

Jason Day                                18                                672

Rory McIlroy                             47                                366

Louis Oosthuizen                      128                               168

Rafa Cabrera Bello                    (13th non member)        69

Upsets by round

R1     5 /32

R2     5/32

R3     9/32

R4     3/8

R5     2/4

First-time Participants: No first-time participants are remaining.