|Three Of The top-4 Made Semis, Woods and Clarke Go For the Million Tomorrow|
|by Martin Olivera|
Morning Quarterfinal Matches
The morning four quarterfinal matches got started early with no noticeable wind and the course still a bit heavy from the rain earlier in the week. Three of the matches featured an American player against a European player, which gave the morning a little bit of Ryder Cup flavor. And one match in particular featured the winners of two of last year's majors, Woods (PGA Championship) vs Lawrie (British Open). By lunchtime, Woods and Love III, and Duval and Clarke were standing victorius and getting ready for the afternoon semifinals. Woods facing an American player for the first time this week, and Clarke as the only European player remaining in the tournament. Unlike last year's tournament in which no top-10 player made it to the weekend, this year three top-4 players reached the semifinals (Woods #1, Duval #2, and Love III #4).
David Duval admitted he had as much fun today winning 5&4 against Scott Hoch as he does snowboarding. "One of my better rounds this year", said Duval, who made six birdies and no bogeys through 14 holes. "I've played better each day and am getting back to where I should be." Hoch was one-over-par (birdied #2 and double-bogeyed #7) in an indifferent round when the match ended. "He played extremely well today. This round he had today would have beaten anybody", said Hoch. Duval went 1-up with a birdie on #6, and quickly moved to 2-up when Hoch double-bogeyed #7 (tee shot in the water), and then 3-up with a birdie on #8. Both players traded birdies on #9, but Duval closed out the all-American quarterfinal match with birdies on #11 and #12.
Tiger Woods had a match go to 18 holes for the second time this week. He defeated Paul Lawrie 1-up in the battle of "major winners", and in a match were at two instances he was trailing 2-down. Lawrie started off with a birdie on #1 from four feet, but gave it back when his second shot on the par-5 #2 went right, into the lake. Woods birdied #2 to draw back even, but then bogeyed #5 (drove in the rough right) and #7 (missed green short) to go 2-down. Woods came back with a birdie on #8, but gave it back on #10 when he hit a pine cone on the back swing of his second shot (Rule 13-2) that fell and hit him on the back of his neck. A par-saving putt on #11 was Woods' turning point. "The putt I made on #11 made me feel better about my game and the rest of the match", said Woods. "I felt that if could make two birdies back-to-back he might give me one later." He didn't quite do that. He only birdied #12, but Lawrie gave him a couple instead, when he bogeyed #13 and #14, putting the match in Woods' hands at 1-up for the first and last time. Both players then parred in.
Hal Sutton and Darren Clark had their re-match of last year's Ryder Cup (Sutton won 4&2). Sutton started on a blazing trail with birdies on #2, #3, and #4 to go 3-up, but then he bogeyed #5 so his lead was cut back to 2-up. Clarke birdied #7 to get another one back, and then made a defty up-and-down birdie on #9 to tie Sutton's birdie and gain some momentum, even though he was 1-down through nine holes. The man from Northern Ireland birdied #10 to even the match, and then for the first time this morning he went 1-up with a birdie on #12. "I knew I was hitting the ball solid. It was a case of trying to keep going", said Clarke. Both players bogeyed #14 and the score remained unchanged through #18, where Sutton missed the green and made bogey and Clarke also bogeyed for a halve to win 1-up. Clarke got his re-match victory and became the only European player reaching the afternoon semifinals. "It's nice to have one European in the semifinals this time", added Clarke.
Davis Love III won his fourth match this week, third in a row by the score 3&2, against Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez. Love has not had a match reach the 18th hole so far this week (won 2&1 against Olin Browne in his first match). After both players birdied #2, Jimenez bogeyed #3 to go 1-down. "The key hole was #6", said Jimenez, "where I was six feet away putting for birdie and he holed from eight feet and I missed to go 2-down." Love went 3-up with a birdie on #10, which was answered by Jimenez with a birdie on #11. But Love birdied the par-3 #14 to move back to 3-up and when both players parred #15 and #16 the match was over. "I'm proud to get this far", said Love, "and look forward to this afternoon."
Afternoon Semifinal Matches
Davis Love III and Tiger Woods are both former winners at La Costa. Love won here in 1993 and Woods in 1997 when the resort hosted the Mercedes Championships at the start of the PGA TOUR season. Today they went out as the first semifinal match in quest for a spot to play for a million dollars tomorrow. Darren Clarke is the highest seeded (#19) of the last four players remaining and the only Eurpean player reaching the semifinals in the two-year history of this event. Clarke faced Davis Duval, who still had to set foot on the 18th hole during a competition round.
Tiger Woods started the afternoon with spectacular golf. After parring #1, he made four straight 3's (eagle-par-birdie-birdie) to quickly get 3-up in the match. All Davis Love could answer with was a birdie on #6, for the second time today on that hole, to narrow Woods' lead to 2-up. "He was phenomenal", said Love. "He got that eagle and away he went. He never got himself in trouble and I never put any pressure on him." Tiger pounced back with birdies on #8 and #9, just like he did in his morning match against Lawrie, to finish the front nine with a sizzling 30 and 4-up. With holes location the same as in the morning matches, it was to expect that some putts would be on similar lines. "I didn't have one putt that was the same", said Woods. "But it was nice, specially on the par-3's, to know exactly what club to hit, because the wind hadn't changed much." The back nine started with both players making pars on #10 and #11, but Woods caught on fire again with a huge eagle on the par-5 #12. He hit it on the green with a 6-iron from the right rough, 236 yards out, and then sank a 30-foot putt to go 5-up with six holes to go. After making par on #13, both players missed the green on the par-3 #14. Woods took a drop for an embedded lie left of the green and then made an excellent recovery shot from the deep rough to within a foot. Said Woods: "It was one of those lies that you look at and say 'No way you can get it on the green'. You just kind of hit and hope. And it came out absolutely perfect." Davis Love, who had a putt to save par after blasting out of the right-front bunker, conceded Tiger's putt thus ending the match with Woods winning 5&4. At that point in the match, through 14 holes, Woods had made eight 3's (two eagles, three pars and three birdies) and was 8-under-par in a remarkable golf exhibition.
Darren Clarke started his afteroon with steady golf, making birdie on #2 and #5, against a lone birdie by David Duval on #4. He finished the front nine 1-up. "I'm pretty solid, hitting fairways and greens. I gave myself a lot of birdie opportunities and knocked a couple of putts in", said Clarke. He started the back nine with a birdie on #10, his second birdie on that hole today, to extend his lead to 2-up. "I hit a nice 6-iron in there to about three feet and made the putt. It gave me possibly an edge to keep on going", said Clarke. And going he kept on. He birdied #12 and #13 for a 4-up lead. And his only bogey, on #15, was quickly forgotten with a birdie on #16, which closed out the match 4&2.
Duval, who made no bogeys but had only one birdie all afternoon was never able to putt pressure. "He wasn't quite on top of his game", said Clarke of Duval. "He wasn't hitting the ball close to the flag to put me under pressure." Duval said: "This afternoon I wasn't real sharp, I didn't hit my irons close enough, but the nice thing is that I didn't make many mistakes either. I didn't give any away. I guess you could say I didn't birdie the par-5's."
The only time Darren Clarke and Tiger Woods met face-to-face in match-play competition was at the 1999 Ryder Cup, when Clarke-Westwood beat Duval-Woods 1-Up in their fourball match on Friday. "We've been joking about that this week", said Clarke. "It'll be more looking forward to it (match versus Woods) than intimidation."
Woods record on 36-hole matches is 6-1. He won three U.S. Amateur finals with scores 1-Up (vs Trip Kuehne) in 1994, 2-Up (vs George Marucci Jr) in 1995, and 1-Up (38 holes, vs Steve Scott) in 1996; won the Pacific Northwest Amateur final 11&10 (he was 13-under-par through 26 holes), and two matches at the 1998 Cisco World Match Play (37 holes vs Ian Woosnam in the quarterfinals, and 5&4 vs Lee Westwood in the semifinals). His only loss came against his friend, neighbor and former winner at La Costa, Mark O'Meara, in the final of the 1998 Cisco World Play, 1-Up. In addition, Woods won two of the previous three World Golf Championships events, losing the eventual winner Jeff Maggert in the quarterfinals here last year. Winning tomorrow will give him a sort of World Golf Championships "Triple-Crown" and will have a chance to making it a Grand Slam should he win at the World Cup in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in December.