(Reuters) – World number one Dustin Johnson stayed on track to become the first player to win all four World Golf Championships events when he advanced to the semi-finals at the WGC-Dell Match Play in Texas on Saturday.
Johnson lost three consecutive holes during his quarter-final against Alexander Noren, but had enough in reserve to secure a 3&2 victory over the Swedish eighth seed at Austin Country Club.
Next up for the American top seed is a Sunday morning semi-final against Japanese 54th seed Hideto Tanihara, while Spaniard 21st seed Jon Rahm and American 42nd seed Bill Haas meet in the other semi. The final will be played in the afternoon.
“It’s a long way to go but I like my chances,” Johnson told NBC television after dusting off Noren.
“I gave him a hole there (by hitting into a water hazard on the 11th) and on 10 missed a short putt, but other than that I played really solid, drove it well, hit some good iron shots and rolled some nice putts in.”
A victory on Sunday would make Johnson the only player other than Tiger Woods to win consecutive World Golf Championships events, after his Mexico Championship triumph three weeks ago.
Giant killer Tanihara, a 14-times winner on his home tour, earned a spot in the final four with an emphatic 4&2 win over Englishman Ross Fisher.
Even if he goes no further, Tanihara has already achieved his objective of qualifying for the Masters in two weeks.
He started the week ranked 60th in the world, but is now assured of jumping into the top 50 and punching his ticket to Augusta.
“My goal was to get to the Masters. I’m really happy,” he said.
Haas, meanwhile, took out five-times major winner Phil Mickelson 2&1 in an all-American quarter-final.
“Against Phil, I really felt like I needed to capitalize when I had the chances, and I was able to do that,” Haas said. “It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Mickelson endured a frustrating afternoon on the greens, but nonetheless sounded satisfied with his preparation for the Masters, where he will shoot for a fourth green jacket.
“I didn’t get the putts to go this match the way I had been making them previously and that was the difference,” he said.
Rahm made quick work of the other quarter-final, giving Dane Soren Kjeldsen a 7&5 shellacking.
Rahm could not remember playing better, except perhaps over the final nine holes en route to his maiden PGA Tour victory at Torrey Pines in southern California two months ago.
“I haven’t played 13 holes the way I played today maybe ever,” said the 22-year-old from Barrika in northern Spanish Basque Country.
“I missed one shot, the second shot on nine, and every other single shot was pretty much exactly the way I saw it. To play golf like that and make a couple of putts, it was just a perfect round.”
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Gene Cherry)