AUSTIN, Texas — The dream match of titanic proportions became a reality Friday as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy each advanced out of pool play in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
Now the heavyweights meet in the knockout round in an oversized ring otherwise known as Austin Country Club. The bell rings at 9:30 a.m. ET Saturday.
“That’s going to be a lot of fun,” Woods said after his must-win, 4-and-2 victory against Patrick Cantlay allowed him to advance when Brandt Snedeker lost his match. “And I’m sure both of us will be ready for it.”
McIlroy has looked ready for everything this week as he moved to 3-0-0 with his 4-and-2 win against Matthew Fitzpatrick. McIlroy hasn’t finished worse than a tie for sixth in six starts this year and won The Players Championship two weeks ago.
“I’m excited for it,” McIlroy said. “I’m going to have to go out there and play my own game and not really look at what he does. Maybe towards the end of the match somewhere I’m going to have to respond to some of the shots he plays or some of the putts he holes. But it’s going to be a great match.”
Woods and McIlroy haven’t faced each other in a competitive match-play tournament. In stroke-play events, Woods holds a 9-6-3 advantage in the 18 rounds where they’ve been grouped on the PGA Tour, and has a 3-2 advantage when playing together on the European Tour.
The last time they were paired came in the 2018 Tour Championship, where Woods won for the first time since 2013. It was his 80th Tour title with 14 majors among them. Woods shot 71 to win by two over Billy Horschel. McIlroy shot 74 and tied for seventh.
“I didn’t put up much of a fight,” McIlroy said. “Hopefully I can give him a better game tomorrow.”
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In becoming one of the 16 players to move into the elimination rounds, Woods took the fight out of Cantlay during a four-hole blitz on the back nine, starting with a 20-foot birdie to win the 11th and tie the match. Woods went 1 up with a birdie from six feet on the 12th and then lit up Austin Country Club on an overcast day by holing out from 83 yards for eagle on the 13th to go 2 up.
“I think it landed pin-high, skipped back and spun back towards the hole,” Woods said. “I tried to hit a little 60 with a little bit of cut spin to hold it against the hill and the wind, and it worked out nice.”
Woods made it 3 up on the next hole by scoring from 20 feet again and closed out the match on the 16th with an 8-foot birdie putt.
“Just got hot right when I needed it,” Woods said. “Kept telling myself to just keep plugging along, that it’s going to turn, and eventually it really did turn, and it turned pretty nicely.”
Woods said he has become more comfortable with the elevation-fueled, wind-swept Austin Country Club, which is full of nooks, crannies and plenty of slope.
“This golf course is tricky,” he said. “There are so many moving parts.”
McIlroy, a winner of 15 Tour titles and four majors, hasn’t gotten to the 17th hole this week and hasn’t trailed in any match.
“I’m comfortable with everything,” he said. “I’m just really happy with my game. I’m happy with every aspect, off the tee, my irons, around the green. Hopefully I can just carry that into tomorrow. I feel like pretty much all of this year it’s been close to what I would think is some of my best golf.”