Poulter routs Garcia to reach Match Play final

Ian Poulter of England equaled the shortest match of the

tournament to reach the final of the Match Play Championship. He

won’t know who he plays until Sunday because the longest match

didn’t finish.

Englishman Paul Casey and Camilo Villegas, neither of whom had

gone the distance all week at Dove Mountain, exchanged a series of

great shots and vital putts through 23 holes Saturday until

twilight in the high desert made it too difficult to continue.

They were to return first thing in the morning to see who gets

to face Poulter and a chance at the $1.4 million prize.

The final stroke of a long day belonged to Villegas, a

28-year-old Colombian, who had a 3-foot par putt on the 14th hole

to win the match. He pushed it badly to the right, giving Casey an

unlikely reprieve.

“I should have made that putt,” Villegas said.

On the previous hole, Villegas hit a remarkable bunker shot from

50 yards that stopped 2 feet from the hole for a conceded birdie,

only for Casey to knocked in a 6-foot birdie to extend the

match.

Villegas also escaped trouble on the par-5 11th when he blasted

out of a desert bush, hammered a fairway metal onto the green and

halved the hole with a par.

“If I had to get up early, I wanted to be in the final. I

didn’t want to be continuing a semifinal,” said Casey, who reached

the championship match last year only to lose to Australian Geoff

Ogilvy. “One of us has to be in the final. And both of us want to

be there.”

Some three hours earlier, Poulter closed out Spaniard Sergio

Garcia on the 12th hole, 7 and 6.

Poulter was in his room at the Ritz-Carlton, waiting to find out

his opponent before taking a hot bath. The match was so long that

he wound up taking the bath and then getting a massage. He posted

on Twitter, “laying on the massage table having some treatment

getting ready for tomorrow, cant believe they are still out

there.”

Both players were exhausted, especially having endured

quarterfinal matches Saturday morning, then coping with a few hours

of wretched conditions – cold, wind and rain that briefly halted

play.

It was only the second time in the 12-year history of this

tournament that a semifinal match went into overtime. The other

time was in 2004, when Davis Love III defeated Darren Clarke.

Casey is trying to give this World Golf Championship its first

All-England final.

Earlier in the day, Casey built an early lead and defeated

British Open champion Stewart Cink, 5 and 4. It was the fourth time

in as many matches that Casey had closed out his opponent by that

score.

Cink’s loss meant no Americans reached the semifinals for the

first time in tournament history.

The morning chill turned worse as gray clouds moved in, and rain

began falling as the quarterfinals were ending. The rain came down

so hard that play was halted for 10 minutes early in the semifinal

matches.

The golf was as miserable as the weather.

Garcia took five shots to reach the first green before conceding

the hole. Casey topped a tee shot so badly on the 209-yard third

hole that it traveled barely 100 yards and didn’t even reach the

water hazard.

“It was just nice that rain did back off so we could actually

play some sensible golf,” Poulter said. “It certainly wasn’t

enjoyable. The golf would have been terrible to watch.”

Poulter had a blast when the weather improved, winning four

straight holes to build a big lead, then effectively closing out

the match with four straight birdies.

Poulter won seven holes in an eight-hole stretch, but it was the

one he lost – to a par by Garcia – that caused some

consternation.

Garcia was 75 feet away for birdie on No. 7, while Poulter went

over the green and into the desert, his ball stuck behind a bush.

He asked for relief from a television tower and was denied. Poulter

protested that he was capable of hitting through the bush and over

the tower, a shot he would only consider in match play.

Calling in the chief referee, he won his appeal. But when he

realized that his free drop would be in a thicker bush, he opted

not to take relief, then played away from the tower. Poulter made

bogey, forcing Garcia to nervously knock in a 6-footer for par.

After the match, Garcia was asked if he felt Poulter should have

played the shot he intended when asking for relief.

“Well, probably,” Garcia said. “That’s what I would have done

after trying to get relief. But he did what he thought was right,

and he’s the one who has to live with it, so he’ll be fine.”

That phrase – “he’s the one who has to live with it” – can

suggest that Poulter did something wrong.

Poulter said he wasn’t put off and stood my his decision.

“It’s my prerogative,” he said. “Do I want to give Sergio the

hole if it doesn’t come off? I want to see him putt, and I’ve got

every right to see him putt.”

Poulter had a far more difficult time reaching the

semifinals.

Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand, the No. 48 seed, had never trailed

in 59 holes until Poulter won the 17th hole with a par to go 1 up.

Poulter won on the 18th when Thongchai’s 15-foot birdie hung on the

lip.

In the other quarterfinal matches, Garcia pulled away late over

Oliver Wilson of England, 4 and 3; and Villegas built a 4-up lead

at the turn and beat South Africa’s Retief Goosen, 4 and 3.