McIlroy takes early lead

Rory McIlroy quickly set about ensuring his previous late heroics did not go to waste in the last 16 of the WGC-Cadillac Match Play in San Francisco today.

Top seed McIlroy looked set to follow Masters champion and second seed Jordan Spieth out of the tournament when he was two down after 16 holes in his final group match against FedEx Cup winner Billy Horschel.

However, the world number one holed from 25 feet on the 17th to keep the match alive and also birdied the 18th to force extra holes, before a par on the 20th hole was enough to secure his third straight win.

That meant the 25-year-old advanced to the knockout stages to face Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, who had also topped his group with a perfect 3-0 record thanks to wins over Alexander Levy, Joost Luiten and Kevin Na.

Both players birdied the par-five first today and McIlroy holed from 25 feet for another birdie on the second to take the lead, before a two-putt birdie from long range on the fifth was enough to take the Northern Irishman two up.

McIlroy was no doubt hoping for an early finish against Matsuyama and also in the following quarter-final, having already stated his intention of flying to Las Vegas to watch the eagerly-anticipated clash between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas tonight.

”I always said if these two guys fought each other, I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to go,” McIlroy said earlier this week. “Luckily we’re somewhere close and hopefully I’m still part of this tournament at that time, but it just wasn’t an opportunity that I was going to miss.”

Reminded that the timing could be tight if his quarter-final went the distance, McIlroy joked: “’Nothing that a few quick birdies won’t change if I try and win 7&6.”

Pars on the sixth and seventh were enough for McIlroy to double his lead and the four-time major winner was five up after holing from 10 feet for birdie on the eighth.

An excellent tee shot on the ninth left McIlroy facing a similar distance for another birdie, but Matsuyama responded by almost recording a hole-in-one and McIlroy missed his birdie attempt to see his lead cut to four holes at the turn.

McIlroy had been seeded to meet Spieth in the final but the world number two lost on Friday to Lee Westwood, who was up against stablemate Danny Willett in the last 16.

Westwood took an early lead with a birdie on the first but Willett, who impressively won all three of his group matches, hit back with a birdie on the fifth and the English pair remained all square at the turn.

Compatriot Tommy Fleetwood was enjoying the biggest lead of the eight matches on the course, an eagle on the first and birdies on the fifth and sixth helping him into a three-hole lead on South African Brendan Grace with eight to play.

England’s Paul Casey was also one up on former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel after seven, while Schwartzel’s fellow South African Louis Oosthuizen was two up on Rickie Fowler after eight.

American Gary Woodland was the first man into the quarter-finals thanks to a 2&1 win over Marc Leishman, with another Australian his next likely opponent after John Senden moved two up on the 15th against former champion Hunter Mahan.

A conceded birdie on the ninth and the real thing from 25 feet on the 10th had taken Casey three up on Schwartzel, while Willett had birdied the 12th to edge in front of Westwood.

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