AUSTIN, TEXAS – Jordan Spieth lost his match. Then he lost his No. 1 ranking.
Jason Day assured a return to the top of the world ranking Saturday when he advanced to the semifinals of the Dell Match Play. His reward is to face Rory McIlroy, who ran his unbeaten streak to 12 matches in this event and needs two more to join Tiger Woods as the only players to win in consecutive years.
“It’s been a bit of an up and down week, especially emotionally,” said Day, who considered withdrawing Wednesday night when his back seized up on him. “It’s been quite amazing to be able to start the week, not really thinking I’m going to be able to play with what happened Wednesday, and then turn around and I’m No. 1 in the world. It’s a strange feeling. I’m glad I stuck it out.”
Even with the local star gone, Match Play has a heavyweight battle on Sunday morning. This is only the second time since the Match Play began in 1999 that the No. 2 (Day) and No. 3 (McIlroy) seeds have met in the semifinals.
Day and McIlroy were all square going to the back in their matches. Day won two of the first three holes to pull away from Brooks Koepka, closing him out on the 16th hole. McIlroy ran off four birdies in six holes for a 4-and-3 victory over Chris Kirk.
Louis Oosthuizen, who eliminated Spieth with a 4-and-2 victory in the morning, took advantage of Dustin Johnson’s blunders in the quarterfinals to win, 2 and 1. Rafa Cabrera Bello of Spain also advanced to the semifinals by beating Ryan Moore, 2 and 1.
McIlroy and Day have never faced each other in match play.
“I’ve love to play Jason,” McIlroy said. “I’d really relish it. He’s playing really well at the minute, coming off a win last week. I’d be really up for it. It’s a big match.”