McIlroy books Dell Match Play semi-final place after classic Schauffele tussle

Ronan MacNamara

Rory McIlroy (Photo by Oisin Keniry/Getty Images)

Ronan MacNamara

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Rory McIlroy led his WGC Dell Technologies Match Play quarter-final against Xander Schauffele once. When his birdie putt on 18 disappeared into the hole for the win to set up a mouthwatering semi-final clash with Cameron Young.

In a repeat of their 2021 Ryder Cup singles battle, this match was a classic right from the get go and it ended in sumptuous fashion, only this time, there were no tears from McIlroy.

McIlroy was a combined sixteen-under-par for his round of 16 and quarter-final ties on Saturday and remarkably he still had to play 36 holes such was the standard of his opponents.

The driver has been the four-time major champion’s weapon over the first three days but on knockout Saturday it acted more as a kryptonite than a juggernaut.

McIlroy felt he was piecing his game together as the tournament went on but the jagged edge he couldn’t fit into the puzzle was the putter until it came up trumps in tight battles with Lucas Herbert and Schauffele.

A 12-foot putt to beat Xander on 18 poured straight into the heart of the cup and with it came a fist pump, relief, a sense of achievement and perhaps, a corner turned heading to Augusta.

“Both ends of the bag are working pretty well, and the stuff in the middle is not too bad, either. Yeah, I putted well all day. I felt yesterday against Keegan I found something or I got a feel, and then putted really good this morning against Lucas, and then continued that this afternoon.

“My speed was a little off early on. I think just because the greens were drying out as the day went on. They just got a little bit faster. Sort of once I figured that out and holed a nice putt for 2 on 4, got my eye in and saw one go in, yeah, it was really good after that.”

The Holywood native appeared to be on the back foot for most of the match having been 2DN through seven with Schauffele storming to four-under at that stage.

Birdies on 8 and 10 swung the momentum McIlroy’s way before a leftie off the tee sent him out of bounds on 12 and one behind again.

A birdie on 13 levelled affairs after Schauffele found the water short of the green but from there the American appeared the more likely winner and will rue chances on 14 and 17 in a stretch that was tit for tat.

Holes 15 and 16 were halved in birdies and in a match where something had to give on 18, it was luck that gave McIlroy the edge after his drive hopped off a spectator and into the clear down the left while Schauffele was hampered by a tree for his second after driving into a similar area.

“I feel like I got lucky. I expected my ball to be Xander’s ball on 18 behind that tree, and I got fortunate that mine trundled down the hill and obviously made the chip shot a lot easier. I was walking up there expecting it to be a TaylorMade ball and I saw a Callaway on it, and I was as surprised as anyone, because mine was further left than Xander’s off the tee. Look, you need a little bit of fortune in these things, and that was a bit of luck for me today.

“Yeah, some nerves on the putt. I feel like I get more nervous watching my opponent play because you just don’t know what they’re going to do. You’re in no control of what they do.

“At least with my stuff I’m in control of it, so I sort of feel like not as many nerves. But yeah 18 has sort of been friendly to me all week. Yeah, hopefully if I can play a little bit better and don’t need to play 18 tomorrow. But we shall see.”

McIlroy became the first player to go 3-0-0 three times in the group stages (2015, 2019, 2023) and now he has a great chance to become a two-time champion having won in 2015.

“I think winning the Match Play is always a massive accomplishment because of what you have to go through. It’s seven rounds and — especially this week, I feel like a lot of my matches have been really, really close, so to be able to pull them out when I’ve needed to has been very gratifying.

“Yeah, maybe a higher sense of satisfaction when you get through on Sunday night and you’re able to win. I feel like it’s maybe just more of an achievement mentally to do it rather than just winning a four-round stroke-play event.”

This will be the last edition of the Match Play but after the drama and quality of golf on Saturday, the decision to remove it from the 2024 schedule seems baffling. Even the argument that the semi-finals and final are a dull spectacle looks like it will be rendered useless with McIlroy on a collision course with Scottie Scheffler, with the pair surely destined to meet in the final.

Scheffler has lost just twice in 18 matches in this event and he won his 10th successive match after coming from 3DN through 6 against Jason Day to win 2&1.

Meanwhile in the other quarter-finals, Sam Burns eased past Mackenzie Hughes 3&2 while Young eventually shirked the gallant challenge of Kurt Kitayama 1UP.

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