David Toms took another impressive step towards retaining the Accenture World Match Play championship in California today.
Toms claimed a second successive European scalp, recovering from an early two-hole deficit to beat Jose Maria Olazabal 2&1 after a series of superb shots reminiscent of his title-winning run a year ago.
All square with five to play, the American made three successive birdies, the first two for wins and then the third for a half after Olazabal had put his tee shot to within three feet of the flag.
A half on the next was good enough for Toms to join last year’s beaten finalist, Chris DiMarco, as the first two men into the last 16.
DiMarco thrashed his compatriot Arron Oberholser 6&5, finishing with five successive birdies.
Elsewhere, Phil Mickelson beat John Daly 2&1, while Tiger Woods turned a horrible start into a one-hole lead over Robert Allenby after 10.
David Howell was the first European through, beating Scott Verplank 3&2 to set up a third-round clash with Mickelson.
But Colin Montgomerie trailed Shingo Katayama by two with eight to play, while Padraig Harrington was all square with Angel Cabrera after five and Luke Donald was on level terms with Shigeki Maruyama at the same early stage.
Toms did not trail by two in any of his six matches in winning the trophy last year, but he did after just three holes against Olazabal – and it could have been worse.
The former USPGA champion, who underwent heart surgery late last year, had to make a 14-footer for a half on the first after hitting behind a tree and slamming his club into the trunk playing his second shot.
Olazabal, who did not even qualify for the event 12 or 24 months ago, sank birdie putts of 10 and 15 feet on the next two greens and the gap was still two after seven holes.
The Spaniard handed the long eighth to his opponent on a plate by pushing his second shot into the lake and Toms, bunkered off the tee at the next, holed from 35 feet to turn all square.
Olazabal bogeyed the 11th and came back with a brilliant 222-yard approach to three feet for a conceded eagle on the next, but Toms was only 15 inches away with his 173-yard approach to the 14th and not much further with his pitch on the next.
That made the gap two with three to play and Toms is not the sort to let such a position go.
The crowd had a tough decision to make on their arrival at the course; watch Woods, which normally happens with the vast majority, or go with easily the most attractive match on paper, Mickelson against Daly.
Woods had been in scintillating form in crushing Stephen Ames by a tournament record 9&8 in the first round, but things were quickly very different against Allenby.
Instead of grabbing birdies at the opening six holes again, the world number one bogeyed the first two before mounting a comeback.
While Allenby started with eight successive pars Woods had three bogeys and three birdies, the last of them a 25-footer down the slope on the eighth which was followed by his opponent missing from eight.
Woods then almost pitched in at the 10th to take the lead for the first time.
Daly came back from an early two-hole deficit as well to level when Mickelson went in the water like Olazabal at the eighth, and he then sank a 22-footer on the next.
But the left-hander holed from similar range for eagle at the 11th and birdied the 13th and 14th to stand three-up before bogeying the next.