AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — In a match that lived up its billing, Jason Day made a 12-foot par on the 18th hole Sunday to outlast Rory McIlroy and reach the final of the Dell Match Play.
Assured of going to No. 1 in the world, Day now gets a shot at the trophy. He faced Louis Oosthuizen, a 4-and-3 winner over Rafa Cabrera Bello, in the championship match Sunday afternoon. Day was trying to join Tiger Woods and Geoff Ogilvy has the only multiple winners of this event.
The 28-year-old Aussie got to the finals with his toughest match of the week.
It was must-see golf, especially on the back nine at Austin Country Club, with thousands of fans packed onto hillsides overlooking fairways and greens, and then rushing to the next hole. No one wanted to miss a shot.
They combined for 11 birdies. The lead changed seven times.
“It was very fun,” Day said. “It was very stressful. … I just kept on saying, ‘I’ve got to frustrate him with my short game.’”
That he did.
Day was on the verge of losing the 11th hole when he made a 12-foot par putt and McIlroy missed a 6-foot birdie putt. It was the third time McIlroy missed putts from 8 feet or closer with a chance to win the hole.
And that’s where the match turned. Day seized control by taking on the water at the par-5 12th and clearing it with about a foot to spare, setting up a two-putt birdie that gave him the lead for good. McIlroy flubbed a chip from behind the 13th green and lost another hole. And right when it looked like Day had the match in hand, McIlroy responded with a stunning shot out of the rough that was the perfect distance, bouncing onto the green to 12 feet for a birdie he badly needed.
Day, even with a sore back that made him considering withdrawing after his opening match Wednesday, had never played the final two holes in his life. He didn’t play a practice round, and all his matches ended on the 16th hole or sooner this week.
McIlroy’s 15-foot birdie on the 17th to halve the match caught the left edge of the cup, sending it to the 18th.
Day was wide right off the tee and punched out left of the green, leaving a tough chip because the green sloped severely to his right. McIlroy also made a mistake by hitting iron into a bunker, and his shot was a fraction away from sliding down the hill to easy birdie range.
Day chipped away from the hole to ride the ridge, only it was too strong and went 12 feet away. McIlroy tried to putt from a yard off the green, hit it too softly and was happy to see the slope take it to 6 feet away. He never had to putt after Day holed his par putt, raising both arms before clasping hands with McIlroy.
“I did miss a couple of opportunities on the front side,” McIlroy said. “Jason played very, very well. I think he made one mistake on the second hole today, and apart from that, I don’t think there were any dropped shots between us. Good, quality match. I didn’t birdie 12 or 13. That was probably what cost me the match.”
Oosthuizen birdied the opening hole against the Spaniard and never looked back. He closed out Cabrera Bello by winning the 14th and 15th holes. Oosthuizen went into the championship match having never played the 18th hole in competition this week.
Luke Donald in 2011 is the only Match Play winner to never play the final hole.
It will be the second time Oosthuizen and Day have played in this World Golf Championship. Day beat him in the quarterfinals in 2014 in Arizona the year he won.