McIlroy closing in on knockout-stage spot; Woods on brink of exit

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Rory McIlroy maintained his impressive form in the countdown to the Masters with a second straight victory in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play but could yet miss out on an eagerly-anticipated showdown with Tiger Woods.

McIlroy followed a 5&4 victory over American Luke List with a 3&2 win against South Africa’s Justin Harding and will seal a place in the knockout stages if he avoids defeat to England’s Matt Fitzpatrick on Friday.

Former champion McIlroy was seeded to face Woods in the last 16 at Austin Country Club but Woods will need other results to go his way after losing 2&1 to Brandt Snedeker.

Woods conjured up a miraculous escape from under a bush on the 10th with a left-handed shot played on his knees but pulled his tee shot into the water on the 13th and crucially failed to match Snedeker’s birdie on the par-five 16th.

Woods will need to beat Patrick Cantlay on Friday and hope that Snedeker loses to Aaron Wise, whose defeat to Cantlay ended his hopes of progressing.

“It’s good to finally get one against him. He’s beaten me about 10,000 times in my career,” Snedeker said.

The crowd were all pulling for Tiger – I don’t blame them. I am, too, 100 per cent of the time – except for today. To be honest, I think my own kids were pulling for him.

McIlroy, who won the Players Championship at Sawgrass on his last start, told Sky Sports: “I feel good. If anything I played a little bit better today than I did yesterday.

“Justin put up a really good fight, I had to make a few birdies just to hang in there on the front nine, and to finish with two birdies on 15 and 16 was very nice.”

Justin Rose sympathised with opponent Eddie Pepperell after snatching an unlikely half from the jaws of defeat to maintain control of his own destiny.

Rose was three down with four holes to play but birdied the 15th, 17th and 18th to halve his match with Pepperell and will advance to the last-16 with a victory over Gary Woodland on Friday.

Rose, who was tournament host of the British Masters won by Pepperell last year, told Sky Sports: “.I had a great match with Eddie. He’s such a class individual and a player to the point where you almost feel sorry for doing that to him over the last few holes.”

Woodland was four up on Emiliano Grillo with seven holes to play before eventually securing his second victory of the week on the 18th, leaving Grillo and Pepperell to contest a dead rubber.

Open champion Francesco Molinari had earlier enjoyed a magnificent seventh match-play victory in succession to move closer to a place in the knockout stages.

Molinari was thrashed 7&5 by Justin Thomas in his final group game 12 months ago but has since become the first European player to compile a perfect 5-0 record in the Ryder Cup.

The Italian followed his opening win over Satoshi Kodaira with a 4&3 victory over team-mate Thorbjorn Olesen.

With Webb Simpson and Kodaira halving the other match in group seven, Molinari needs to avoid defeat to Simpson on Friday to reach the last 16.

Defending champion Bubba Watson crashed out with a game to spare after losing to Billy Horschel.

It is the second year in succession the defending champion has failed to reach the knockout stages after 2017 winner Dustin Johnson lost all three of his matches 12 months ago.


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