Seven months after joining forces to help Europe reclaim the Ryder Cup, Northern Irish duo Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell will take each other on when they go head to head Saturday in a last-16 meeting at the World Match Play Championship.
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The pair played together three times against the United States at Celtic Manor in Wales, claiming 1 1/2 points for Europe’s winning cause. They also impressed as a partnership in the Seve Trophy in France in 2009, their combination providing three points in a 16 1/2-11 1/2 win for Britain and Ireland against Continental Europe.
However, their friendship will be put to one side when they meet in a competitive match for the first time, with a place in the quarterfinals at stake at the Finca Cortesin course in Andalusia. McDowell came top of Group D with two straight wins while McIlroy finished runner-up in Group E following a 3-and-2 defeat to in-form Dane Nicolas Colsaerts on Friday.
”It will be a great game, I’m excited about it,” McDowell said. ”It’s definitely going to be the Northern Ireland Match Play Championship tomorrow.
”It’s going to be hard but you’ve got to leave your friendship on the sideline. There will be a certain amount of bragging rights we are playing for.”
The fifth-ranked McDowell said it’s usually a one-sided affair when he comes up against McIlroy in practice, even though his friend is one place below him in the rankings.
”I stopped playing him because he’s too good,” the U.S Open champion said. ”I’m more of an observer and he just tends to beat me up. I’m sure he’ll expect to beat me again.”
McIlroy, who spoke this week about how he’d comforted McDowell following his compatriot’s collapse from a winning position in the final round of the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass on Sunday, said he’d treat the match like any other.
”I’m sure we’ll chat around the course and it will be a friendly game. But I’m here to win a tournament and to win it, I need to get through him. That’s the No. 1 thing on my mind,” McIlroy said.
In another last-16 match between European Ryder Cup colleagues, top-ranked Lee Westwood will take on fellow Englishman Ian Poulter after cruising to a second convincing win in successive days.
Westwood, who thrashed Denmark’s Anders Hansen 6 and 5 on Thursday, rattled in eight birdies in 15 holes to ease past Australia’s Aaron Baddeley 4 and 3 and finish top of Group A.
Westwood has yet to see the course’s final three holes this week and will be delighted to have conserved his energy for a possible 36 holes on both Saturday and Sunday, as he goes in search of a third straight tournament victory.
”I’m carrying on the way I played in Indonesia and Korea … and not given my opponents much of a sniff,” Westwood said. ”But Ian’s a good match-play player. He gets up and down a lot, makes quite a few putts and that can irritate you after a while.”
Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer, who could supplant Westwood as No. 1 if they win the tournament on the Costa del Sol, also advanced serenely into the last 16 as unbeaten group winners.
Second-ranked Luke Donald, who won the Accenture Match Play in Arizona in February, maintained his superb recent consistency in all formats by beating defending champion Ross Fisher 3 and 1 in Group B. He will play Sweden’s Johan Edfors next.
Third-ranked Kaymer beat a second Korean player in successive days, downing Noh Seung-yul 2 and 1 to set up a last-16 match against Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen.
Of the 24 players to start the group stages, eight were eliminated Friday after two defeats. The list included four major winners past and present – two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen, reigning British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, 2009 U.S. PGA winner Y.E. Yang and 1999 British Open champion Paul Lawrie.
The lone American in the field, Ryan Moore, also exited Friday after losing the last four holes to go down by one to Englishman Fisher.
Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez lost a three-way playoff with Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and Edfors to bow out, while Denmark’s Anders Hansen and No. 9-ranked Paul Casey – the highest-ranked casualty of the group stage — are also on their way home.
The other last-16 matches will be Colsaerts vs. Vegas, Quiros vs. Noh, Schwartzel vs. Fisher and Francesco Molinari vs. Baddeley.