MARANA, Ariz. –– Hunter Mahan’s match against Webb Simpson took longer than he’s accustomed to. It started with an unfamiliar feeling, but it ended with a 1-up victory for Mahan as he tries to win his second consecutive WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
Mahan’s match against Simpson was the first time Mahan had to play the 18th hole since last year’s first round. Simpson started with the honor. Mahan, who’s never trailed this week, is used to teeing off first.
“I realized how much I didn’t like him hitting first,” Mahan said. “I feel like I had a rhythm there. It’s different, but at the end of the day it’s about executing.”
Mahan has been doing that quite well once again at Dove Mountain.
He’s 14-4 in his six appearances in this championship. He’ll face Ian Poulter in the semifinals. It will be just the second time in WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship history that two former champions will face off in the semifinals.
For all the talk of upsets and big names exiting early, the semifinal round is full of players with good records here. Mahan won last year. Poulter is the 2010 champion. Kuchar has advanced to at least the quarterfinals in each of the past three seasons. Even Day has won at least one match in each of his three appearances and is 7-2 in this championship.
Mahan took a 1-up lead with a birdie at the fifth hole against Simpson on Saturday afternoon, then sank a 25-footer at No. 10 to regain that lead. Simpson squared the match with a birdie on No. 13, and the pair matched birdies at the drivable, par-4 15th. Both players hit into the same bunker on the next hole, but Simpson lost the hole with bogey. Mahan closed out the match with a par on No. 18.
“It was so back and forth,” Mahan said. “I made a couple nice up-and-downs and made some nice putts today.”
Mahan is the fourth defending champion to advance to the semifinals, but is seeking to become the only player besides Tiger Woods to win this championship two years in a row. Mahan is seeking his third World Golf Championships and sixth PGA Tour victory.
Mahan, a former U.S. Junior champ (1999) and U.S. Amateur runner-up (2002), has won 10 consecutive matches at this event, and 12 of his last 13. Six of his 10 matches over the past two years have ended at the 15th hole or earlier. He beat both Martin Kaymer and Matteo Manassero, 5 and 4, earlier this week, and won, 4 and 3, over Richard Sterne. His match against Simpson was the first time he played the 18th hole since his first match last year.
This is Mahan’s fifth consecutive week of play. He’s finished no worse than 16th in his previous four starts, including an eighth-place finish last week at Riviera. His consistent play has continued this week.
“I’ve been in that tournament grind for a while and kind of have a good rhythm with that, and I feel like I’ve gotten better . . . every single week,” he said. “It’s . . . refreshing in match play because you can lay it all out there every single match.”