MARANA, Ariz. — Lee Westwood had every reason to pack light for the Match Play Championship. He never made it out of the second round in his 11 previous trips to the World Golf Championships event, and he never could understand why.
Now it seems Westwood can do no wrong.
He has led after 48 of the 49 holes he has played through three rounds at Dove Mountain, barely breaking a sweat under the blazing sun in the high desert. And he erased more bad memories Friday with a 3-and-2 victory over Nick Watney, who eliminated Westwood each of the previous two years.
"You want to come out and get momentum as quickly as possible," said Westwood, who birdied the opening two holes for the second straight match. "And the only way to do that is by winning holes."
Now, Westwood is two matches from a shot at his first WGC title, and a return to No. 1 in the world.
But he's not alone.
Rory McIlroy also can go to No. 1 for the first time by winning. He also had an easy time, winning on the 17th hole over Miguel Angel Jimenez.
The battle for No. 1 — made possible by Luke Donald's loss in the first round — put some interest into an otherwise dull afternoon at Dove Mountain.
No matches went the distance until the final last one, when Bae Sang-moon missed a 6-foot putt on the 17th hole, only to finish off John Senden with a par from about the same distance on No. 18.
McIlroy has struggled to block out the idea that he could go to No. 1. Instead, he's trying to use it as an advantage.
"It's a nice incentive," the U.S. Open champion said.
Westwood was No. 1 a year ago, and it's a less of a priority than to capture his first WGC title. Just getting to the quarterfinals is a small achievement.
"I had a little chuckle watching the Golf Channel on Wednesday morning and listening to them make all their predictions and things like that. I don't think they got many right," Westwood said.
And where did the prognosticators have Westwood?
"On the BA 289 on Thursday night," he said, referring to his usual British Airways flight.
Westwood plays Martin Laird today. Laird beat fellow Scotsman Paul Lawrie 3 and 1.
In other matches:
• Hunter Mahan built a big lead over Steve Stricker and held on for a 4-and-3 win. Mahan next faces Matt Kuchar, a 4-and-3 winner against Martin Kaymer.
• Mark Wilson eliminated Dustin Johnson for the second straight year, 4 and 3.
PGA: Daniel Summerhays birdied the final hole for 6-under 65 and a share of the second-round lead at 8-under 134 with Will Claxton and Greg Owen at the Mayakoba Classic in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico.
LPGA: Katie Futcher and Jenny Shin shot 5-under 67 in the HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore to join first-round leader Angela Stanford atop the leaderboard at 8-under 136. Tampa resident Kristy McPherson (75) was even; Seminole's Brittany Lincicome was 1 over after shooting 74.