MARANA, Ariz. — Teenage sensation Rory McIlroy can only wonder what it would have been like to face his hero, Tiger Woods, in the Accenture Match Play Championship.
He didn’t get that chance Friday, which might be one reason he had such an easy time advancing to the quarterfinals.
McIlroy kept alive his hopes of becoming the youngest winner in American professional golf history with a 4-and-3 victory over Tim Clark, who didn’t look anything like the player who put an end to Woods’ return to golf.
“Tim didn’t play his best golf today — understandably,” said McIlroy, a 19-year-old from Northern Ireland. “He was probably a little flat after all that happened yesterday. And I came out and got off to quite a fast start.”
It was the third straight time that the player who knocked Woods out of this tournament lost in the next round.
Clark had played 32 holes without a bogey in winning his first two matches, including his celebrated 4-and-2 victory over Woods in the second round. He bogeyed the first hole against McIlroy and never caught up.
“It’s a big deal coming out today, but it’s tough to feel the same, and it’s tough to maybe get focused,” Clark said. “You go around with him and it’s tough to come out the next day and get into the battle again.”
Phil Mickelson also wasted another opportunity with Woods out of the picture.
With a victory this week, Mickelson could have gone to Doral with a mathematical chance of being No. 1 in the world. Instead, he wasted a strong comeback with a tee shot into a desert bush and a bunker shot that led to double bogey, losing on the 18th hole to Stewart Cink.
The highest seed remaining at Dove Mountain was No. 8 Geoff Ogilvy, who defeated Camilo Villegas of Colombia, 2 and 1.
The atmosphere was far more subdued than earlier in the week, when Woods made his heralded return to golf from knee surgery after an eight-month absence, and was eliminated in the second round.
The gallery spread itself among the eight matches, and there were some entertaining ones, for sure.
Mickelson had not trailed all week until Cink ran off three straight birdies to build a 3-up lead after four holes. Mickelson rallied to square the match twice, and both times let it get away.
Lefty hit his tee shot into a desert bush on the 15th hole and fell behind, then tied it on the 16th when Cink missed the green. But on the next hole, Mickelson’s third shot from a desert waste area sailed over the gallery, and he missed a 4-foot bogey putt to lose the hole. His last chance was a 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole, which missed below the cup.
“The wheel sort of came off for both of us,” Cink said. “It was a case of ’Who doesn’t want to win this match, or who does?’ And we took a long time to figure that out.”
Ernie Els, in the quarterfinals for only the second time, had a 1-up lead on the 18th tee when Luke Donald felt a twinge in his left wrist and decided to concede the match instead of risking further injury. Donald had surgery on that wrist six months ago, and only returned to competition in December.