The last time Ernie Els made it to the Sunday of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, he beat the likes of Greg Kraft, Hidemichi Tanaka, Jean Van de Velde and Craig Stadler.
Quick, guess the year.
George W. Bush was president, the Arizona Diamondbacks won the World Series and Lute Olson and the Arizona Wildcats played Duke for the national championship.
Yep, Els hasn’t made it this far since 2001 when the Metropolitan Golf Club in Melbourne, Australia, hosted Match Play.
But the 44-year-old South African will tee off at 7:20 this morning against Victor Dubuisson of France with a spot in the finals on the line. Els, the No. 8 seed in the Gary Player bracket, beat American Jordan Spieth 4 and 2 on Saturday in the quarterfinals.
“I’ve really had a love/hate relationship with this event,” Els said. “I was lucky enough to get in the field a couple of years ago and beat Luke Donald in the first round. But most of the time, I lost in the first round here either on the 18th or 19th hole.
“It’s been a frustrating time at this event.”
This year, though, Els has turned the tables.
He had Spieth, the 20-year-old University of Texas product, throwing his clubs after bad shots, jawing with his caddy and shaking his head for the whole match.
“I was a little bit of a mental midget out there,” Spieth said.
“It was actually kinda embarrassing looking back. I was dropping clubs and kind of just whining to (caddy) Michael Greller.
“In match play, you’ve got to keep your cool.”
What Spieth couldn’t do, Els did perfectly.
After the two were all square through seven holes, Els birdied No. 8 to take a one-hole lead and never gave it back. He won No. 12, No. 14 and then closed Spieth out with a par on No. 16 after Spieth bogeyed the hole.
“I’m obviously elated to be going through,” Els said. “It’s been a wonderful week up to now. Today I felt like I played a little bit more solid, but still not quite to my expectations. But the course played quite tricky. (Spieth) obviously didn’t play as good as he did yesterday and thank goodness.”
Els improved to 15-13 lifetime at Match Play.
Spieth, making his debut in the event, leaves with a 3-1 mark and hope that he’ll be back next year.
Els said his experience and 24-year age difference paid off on Saturday.
“The fantastic thing about golf is that at 44, you’re out of most professional sports by 15 years,” Els said. “Here I am still playing and competing against the youngsters, so it’s quite amazing.
“It’s a nice job to have sometimes.”
Before his quarterfinal win over Graeme McDowell on Saturday, Dubuisson hadn’t trailed for a single hole all week.
That streak ended against McDowell, but not much else went wrong for the 23-year-old Frenchman.
McDowell took a 2-up lead on Dubuisson through three holes with a par-eagle-birdie start, but by the seventh hole the two were all square. They traded leads until the 16th, when McDowell bogeyed and Dubuisson went 1-up with a par.
He halved the final two holes with McDowell to hold him off for a 1-up victory and advance to this morning’s semifinals.
“I knew Graeme was going to be a tough player to beat, but I just played my own stroke play and I didn’t watch him too much,” Dubuisson said. “I tried to just focus on my game and tried to make birdies.”
Dubuisson has now taken out two major winners in McDowell and Bubba Watson. He’ll try to make it three today against Els, whom he has yet to meet.
“I know he’s a great guy, a very nice man,” Dubuisson said of Els. “But I’ve never played with him before. He has a lot of experience. He has won so many tournaments and majors. I will just do the same as I did today and yesterday against Bubba and Graeme and just play my own stroke play and not be too impressed.”
Dubuisson is attempting to become the second-youngest player ever to win a WGC event. Tiger Woods is the youngest, winning the Bridgestone Invitational in 1999 when he was 23 years, seven months and 30 days old. Dubuisson will 23 years, 10 months and one day today.
• For the third time in Match Play history, four different countries will be represented in today’s semifinals. Rickie Fowler (United States) will face Jason Day (Australia) in one semifinal. Els hails from South Africa, while Dubuisson is from France. The other two times it happened were in 2001 and 2007.
• Els is the second-oldest semifinalist in tournament history. Tom Lehman made the semis in 2006 at 46. He finished third.
• McDowell lost in the quarterfinals for the second straight year. He’s now 9-8 lifetime in the event.
Today's tee times
|Round||Tee time||Player (seed)||Player (Seed)|
|Semifinal||7:05 a.m.||Jason Day (8)||Rickie Fowler (53)|
|7:20 a.m.||Ernie Els (31)||Victor Dubuisson (27)|
|Consolation||11:40 a.m.||Day-Fowler loser||Els-Dubuisson loser|
|Final||Noon||Day-Fowler winner||Els-Dubuisson winner|