MARANA, Arizona (Reuters) - Ian Poulter stormed into the Accenture Match Play Championship final with a 7&6 victory over Sergio Garcia on Saturday, but the Briton must wait a little longer to discover who he will face over 36 holes for the title.
In the second semi-final, Colombia’s Camilo Villegas and Poulter’s compatriot Paul Casey were locked all square after five extra holes of their match when play was halted in near darkness at a chilly Dove Mountain.
Hopes of an all-English final seemed to have disappeared on the 23rd hole of the titanic struggle as Villegas stood over a three-foot par putt for victory that he could normally sink with his eyes closed.
Villegas conspired to miss right of the hole and whether it was difficult to read the break in the gloom or nerves had taken hold, only he really knows, but it was a messy end to a long day that began with the morning quarter-finals.
Villegas and Casey will resume at 7:10 a.m, with the winner advancing to face a well-rested Poulter, who according to a posting on his Twitter page, was soaking in his hotel bath while the second semi-final drifted on into the night.
“I should have made that putt but it is what it is,” Villegas told reporters as Casey offered an excuse for his opponent.
“It was just very, very bad light,” the Briton said.
“If I was getting up at five o’clock in the morning I wanted it to be for a final. I didn’t want to be continuing a semi-final but that’s the way it is,” he continued.
“Yeah, I’m tired. But, you know, it’s amazing what a little bit of adrenalin will do.”
As if an unsatisfactory conclusion was bad enough, both players also endured miserable conditions early in their match when a cold front came through with heavy rain and blustery winds.
“Probably the most miserable I’ve ever been on a golf course, starting the semi-final,” Casey grumbled. “If it wasn’t for the rain and bad weather, we probably would have gotten this thing done by now.”
Poulter, meanwhile, played superbly to cruise past Garcia following a storming start.
“It was nice to get out there and get up early on Sergio,” Poulter said.
There was some tension between the Ryder Cup team mates, with Garcia expressing displeasure over an incident at the par-four seventh, where Poulter sought relief after his second shot stopped under a bush beyond the green, behind a television tower.
Poulter was granted line-of-sight relief but when he saw exactly where he would have to drop the ball, in another bush, he decided to play the ball from its original spot.
He eventually made a bogey and lost the hole, but Garcia was evidently not impressed, seeming to believe that after seeking relief, Poulter should have played his ball from the new spot.
“That’s probably what I would have done after trying to get relief, but he did what he felt was right and he’s the one who has to live with it,” Garcia said. “I just told him what I felt, but in a good manner.”
Poulter defended his decision: “I wanted to see where I could drop the ball,” he said. “It’s my prerogative.”
In the quarter-finals, Poulter edged out Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee 1-up while Garcia eased past Britain’s Oliver Wilson 4&3.
Villegas advanced with a 4&3 victory over South Africa’s Retief Goosen and Casey ended the American challenge with a 5&4 win against British Open champion Stewart Cink.
Editing by John O’Brien
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