Luke Donald took the first step toward the Sunday clash with Lee Westwood that he wants to happen -- even though it would mean he couldn’t become world No. 1 this week.
"I would love to play Lee," said second-ranked Donald Thursday after beating PGA Tour regular Ryan Moore 4&3 in the first group game of the Volvo World Match Play Championship at Finca Cortesin. "There's more satisfaction when you can take down the No. 1 player in the world."
2011 VOLVO WORLD MATCH PLAY
The 2011 edition of the Volvo World Match Play boasts a new 24-man field and a new springtime date.
And he speaks from experience there. When he won the WGC-Accenture Match Play in Arizona in February, he beat Martin Kaymer in the final -- on the very weekend that the German took the top spot in the rankings.
Westwood has since grabbed it back, though, with two wins in Asia and he was even more impressive than Donald on Thursday, thrashing Dane Anders Hansen 6&5.
Under the new format, neither Westwood nor Donald is certain yet to be among the 16 players who reach the knockout stages on Saturday and Sunday, however.
If they lose their second group games -- Westwood against Australian Aaron Baddeley and Donald against defending champion Ross Fisher -- they could yet find themselves in sudden death playoffs to decide who goes through.
Northern Irish players Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy also fancy their chances of progressing after beating Louis Oosthuizen and Retief Goosen, respectively, McIlroy chipping in at the last.
The day's other three winners were Kaymer, who overcame Korea's Y.E. Yang 2&1, and Spaniards Alvaro Quiros and Miguel Angel Jimenez. Quiros beat Paul Casey and Jimenez hammered Masters champion Charl Schwartzel 6&5.
Only one of the eight games was halved. That was between Ryder Cup teammates Ian Poulter and Francesco Molinari, and Poulter did that with a five-foot birdie putt on the last after losing the first three holes.
Westwood rattled off six birdies in eight holes from the fourth to leave Hansen trailing in his wake, and on such a physically demanding course -- even with some cart rides provided between holes -- was delighted to finish on the 13th. The 38-year-old had calf trouble from June onwards last year, but has worked really hard on his fitness.
"The less holes you can play are obviously to pay dividends down the road and down the tournament," he said. "You get to a point in your career where you look for places that you can gain an advantage or where you can improve.
"I wasn't as strong as I ought to have been, but now I'm a lot more powerful,” he explained. “I wouldn't say I'm a svelte marathon runner, but I'm fit for golf -- powerful in all the right areas."
After his victories in Indonesia and Korea, he also senses a return to the time when he took most of the chances that came his way.
"I'd like to start finishing off tournaments like I did 10 years ago -- that habit of just really being patient and lingering around and sort of sticking your chin out at the right time,” he said. "That obviously works wonders for your confidence and I started to feel it again in Korea."
McDowell was grateful for the instant chance to move on from his closing 79 at the Players Championship on Sunday.
His match, of course, was a clash between the U.S. Open and British Open champions, and McDowell, who defends the U.S. Open crown in Washington, D.C., next month, said after beating Oosthuizen 3&1: "I wouldn't have liked a week off to think about the way I played. I've had a couple of days in the gym just trying to get a little bit of life back in the legs because they went dead on me."
After a bogey-double bogey finish to the front nine, he eagled the long 11th and birdied the 13th and short 17th.
McIlroy was 2 down to Goosen after seven, but after fighting back to level he birdied the 15th to nose in front and matched Goosen's birdies at the 16th and 18th.
Casey and Schwartzel were the only higher seeds to lose, Casey never getting back on terms against Quiros after bogeying the opening two holes. Now he has to get something out of his match with Soren Kjeldsen on Friday afternoon to have a chance of going through.
(8) Francesco Molinari halved with (9) Ian Poulter
(7) Charl Schwartzel lost to (10) Miguel Angel Jimenez, 6 & 5
(6) Paul Casey lost to (11) Alvaro Quiros, 3 & 1
(5) Rory McIlroy beat (12) Retief Goosen, 1-up
(4) Graeme McDowell beat (13) Louis Oosthuizen, 3 & 1
(3) Martin Kaymer beat (14) Y.E. Yang, 2 & 1
(2) Luke Donald beat (15) Ryan Moore, 4 & 3
(1) Lee Westwood beat (16) Anders Hansen, 6 & 5