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Poulter, Mahan in match-play semis

Big putts put Ian Poulter into the WGC Match Play Championship semifinals.

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Big putts put Ian Poulter into the WGC Match Play Championship semifinals.

MARANA, Ariz. — The stars are gone from the Match Play Championship. Still alive: Ian Poulter and Hunter Mahan, the best in match play over the past few years.

Poulter added to his reputation as one tough customer Saturday when he beat Steve Stricker with one big putt after another, raising his record in this fickle format to 19-3-2 over the past four years.

Mahan outlasted 2012 U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson in 18 holes, leaving him two wins from joining Tiger Woods as the only repeat winners of this World Golf Championships event. Mahan hasn't lost a match in two years, and even more impressive than his 11 straight wins is that he has gone 151 holes in this event at Dove Mountain without trailing.

Poulter and Mahan meet this morning in the semifinals.

Matt Kuchar had no trouble against Robert Garrigus, building a 4-up lead through 10 and hanging on for a 3-and-2 win. Kuchar has made it to the quarters the past three years, and this is his second time in the semis in the past three. Kuchar faces Jason Day, who won a tight match against Graeme McDowell in 18 holes. Day also eliminated Masters champion Bubba Watson, leaving the tournament without a top-10 seed going into the quarterfinals for the first time ever.

Along with a perfect singles record in the Ryder Cup, Poulter has won the WGC version of the Match Play and the World Match Play in Spain in 2011. He wasn't aware of his record since 2010, nor did he sound terribly surprised.

"I'm pretty proud of it," he said. "Does it surprise me? I love match play."

After Poulter pulled away from Tim Clark in the third round Saturday morning, he faced his toughest challenge yet in Stricker, who started his 46th birthday celebration by making eight birdies in a brilliantly played match against Scott Piercy in the third round.

The Poulter-Stricker match effectively turned on the third hole. After they traded birdies, Stricker stuffed his tee shot into 6 feet, and Poulter pulled his shot some 40 feet away above the ridge. Poulter wound up making the putt, and all Stricker could do was laugh. He missed his short birdie, and the momentum shifted for good.

Before the tournament, Mahan was asked to pick the best three in match play, and Poulter was on his list.

"I have so much respect for the guy and how he plays," Mahan said. "There's not one part of his game that really shines. He has a great short game, and he's a great putter, but to me, his determination and his will is his greatest strength. He's never going to think he's out of a hole."

LPGA: Thai teenager Ariya Jutanugarn shot 2-under 70 to lead by three after the third round of the LPGA Thailand at Chonburi. Last year's top-ranked amateur, Jutanugarn, 17, was at 11-under 205. She needed a sponsor's invitation to enter the tournament in her first year as a pro. Stacy Lewis (76), Se Ri Pak (71) and Beatriz Recari (72) were second. Seminole's Brittany Lincicome (71) was at 1 under and Tampa's Cindy LaCrosse (71) at par 216.

Poulter, Mahan in match-play semis 02/23/13 [Last modified: Saturday, February 23, 2013 10:41pm]
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