Tiger Woods might stand accused of overshadowing the WGC World Match Play, but at least the English are doing their level best to shine the spotlight on the Dove Mountain golf course. The first three through last night all had the St George's Cross next to their names as Luke Donald, Paul Casey and Oliver Wilson led the march into the last 16.
The progress of Donald and Casey was comfortable to the point of being nonchalant, while that of Wilson was much harder earned. But then, he was up against Rory McIlroy, the brilliant young Ulsterman who was the Arizona poster boy coming into this shootout. In the event the kid was carted off after the second sudden death hole.
In truth, McIlroy was far from his best, his erratic short game to blame for Wilson winning each of the five par-fives they played. A gutsy eight-footer on the 18th to send the tie into extra holes did keep the Irish hopes alive and on the first extra hole, McIlroy actually had a 10-footer to deny Wilson. But he missed and when the 20-year-old failed, yet again, to birdie the par five second, the quiet man from Mansfield was through. "It was a great scalp for me," he said. "Rory is only young but in my mind he was a hot favourite coming into this event. It's very, very satisfying."
The 29-year-old will now play Donald and as Wilson said: "Luke's the last player you want to play. Very solid and rarely makes a mistake. It's funny, but I've never played with him, not even in strokeplay. But I don't need to have done to know how good he is."
On Wednesday, Donald's first victim, Graeme McDowell, said: "I feel like I run into a buzz saw." Yesterday, Robert Allenby must have felt he had run into a combine harvester. Six birdies and no bogeys in 13 holes eased Donald to a 6&5 success.
The 32-year-old has notched up 14 birdies in 30 holes thus far and with a runner-up placing and a top 20 in his last two events he looks and sounds very confident indeed. "The last two years were frustrating," he said, referring to the wrist injury which kept him out of the 2008 Ryder Cup. "But the last few weeks I've started to hit the ball better." Yet if his long game has been good then his short game has been outrageous. "He's just not missing," said Allenby.
Mike Weir was similarly shell-shocked. The Canadian beat Alvaro Quiros by 8&6 in the first round, but was on the other end of the embarrassment when Casey dispatched him 5&4. It was the same margin with which Casey saw off Stephen Ames and like Donald there is a certain swagger in his stride. Both, however, will always get left behind in the strutting stakes by Ian Poulter. He also advanced to the third round with a 2&1 triumph over the Australian. Later, Lee Westwood and Ross McGowan (who had earlier beaten the beat the world No 2 Steve Stricker) let down the side somewhat, losing to Nick Watney and Ryo Ishikawa respectively. But four out of six ain't bad.Reuse content