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Match Play grit helps McIlroy move to third round, Woods eliminated

MARANA, Arizona -- A superb bunker shot to within a foot of the cup at the par-3 16th summed up Rory McIlroy's day as he eked out a gritty victory in Thursday's second round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

The amiable world number two produced crucial up-and-downs when he needed them to beat Dane Anders Hansen 3&2 on a sun-drenched afternoon at Dove Mountain's Ritz-Carlton Golf Club. U.S. Open champion McIlroy, who would depose fellow Briton Luke Donald from the top of the rankings by winning Sunday's final, was delighted with his ability to play dogged match play golf without being at his best.

“It was a decent match,” the 22-year-old Northern Irishman, who never trailed and sealed the win with his up-and-down for par at the 16th, told reporters. “We both didn't have our best stuff with us.

McIlroy, who almost holed out with his chip from below the green at the par-four 15th, will face pony-tailed Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez in Friday's third round when he hoped to deliver an improved performance.

“I'm confident that I can hang in there,” he said. “I've hit a few loose shots, but to play the way I have the first two days and get through two matches gives me a little bit of confidence.

“I still need to go to the range and do some work, but I'm just happy to be through to the third round.

“I'm driving the ball long, and for the most part I'm finding the fairways. I missed a few iron shots left, so I'm going to go work a little bit to try and straighten that out.”

Asked about the prospect of becoming world number one for the first time, McIlroy replied: “Everyone keeps telling me, so it's hard to put it out of my mind.

“It's a little bit of extra motivation this week knowing that if I can get through four more matches, I could go to the top of the world rankings which is obviously a huge moment for my career.”

Former world No. 1 Tiger Woods was eliminated by Nick Watney on Thursday in a second-round match at the US$8.5 million World Golf Championships Match Play Championship.

Watney booked a third-round match on Friday against world No. 3 Lee Westwood of England. Westwood, the Sam Snead bracket's top seed, defeated Sweden's Robert Karlsson 3 and 2 in another second-round match at Dove Mountain.

“I'm definitely in a little bit of shock,” Watney said after Woods missed a five-footer that would have extended the match.

“The old adage is to expect your opponent to make it,” Watney said. “And when it's Tiger Woods, you really expect him to make it.”

Woods missed three birdie putts within 10 feet over the final six holes.

“I didn't miss a single shot coming in, which is good. And that was fun, to hit the ball that well,” said Woods, who struggled as he implemented swing changes last year. “Unfortunately, I just didn't make a putt when I needed it.”

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Tiger Woods lines up his putt on the 16th green during the second round of the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club in Marana, Arizona, Thursday, Feb. 23. (AFP)

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