MARANA, Ariz. — The love-hate relationship Ernie Els has with the Match Play Championship is taking a major turn for the better.
Els made a birdie from the desert on the par-5 eighth hole to take the lead for good Saturday against 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, reaching the semifinals in this fickle tournament for the first time in 13 years.
It was the first time all week Els made more birdies than bogeys, yet he somehow has survived.
“At times I haven’t played my best, as you guys have well-documented and know,” Els said with a laugh. “But it’s match play. I’ve just done enough to get through.”
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Graeme McDowell was the only other player with greater fortune on his side, but that ended Saturday.
McDowell had reached the quarterfinals even though he never led a single hole while any of his three matches were in progress. Just his luck, he finally took a lead and wound up losing the match to Victor Dubuisson of France.
Els plays Dubuisson, a rising star in the European ranks who won the Turkish Open when Tiger Woods finished third.
In other quarterfinal matches:
• Jason Day reached the semifinals for the second consecutive year with a 2-and-1 victory over Louis Oosthuizen, who played with a nagging back injury.
• Rickie Fowler lost a 3-up lead to Arizona grad Jim Furyk, only to win the last two holes for a 1-up victory for a shot at Day.
Els long held a reputation as a wizard in match play, having captured the World Match Play Championship seven times when it was at Wentworth. This version hasn’t been kind to him.
“I really had a love-hate relationship with this event, as you guys well know,” he said.
• Swede Anna Nordqvist shot a 5-under 67 at the LPGA Thailand in Chonburi for a four-stroke lead over top-ranked Inbee Park (67) and American Michelle Wie (69). Nordqvist is at 11-under 205 at the Siam Country Club.