Westwood, who has led 48 of the 49 holes he has played this week, got a small measure of revenge against Nick Watney and advanced to the quarterfinals with a 3-and-2 victory on Friday at Dove Mountain. Watney had eliminated him each of the last two years.
McIlroy built a 3-up lead at the turn and hung on to beat Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain, 2 and 1.
“It’s a nice incentive,” McIlroy said. “It’s nice to have in the back of your mind. And if you’re struggling in a match and find it hard to get yourself up, or get any sort of momentum, if you think about that and you think if you can really dig deep, you still have a chance to become No. 1.”
Westwood was at No. 1 a year ago, and it’s a less of a priority than to capture his first World Golf Championship.
One year after Luke Donald became the first Match Play champion to never trail all week — Donald never even played the 18th hole in his six matches — Westwood is look every bit as dominant.
He is equipped with an improved short game, and it has carried him along the high desert. Westwood put away Watney for good with a pitch up a steep slope to the top tier on the 15th green, the ball so close that Watney picked it up for him.
Westwood had never made it out of the second round in 11 previous trips to this fickle tournament.
“I’m just happy to be looking for a different restaurant for Friday night,” Westwood said. “I had a little chuckle watching The Golf Channel on Wednesday morning and listening to them make all their predictions and things like that. I don’t think they got many right.”
And where did the prognosticators have Westwood?
“On the BA 289 on Thursday night,” he said, referring to his usual British Airways flight.
Westwood next plays Martin Laird, who won the battle of Scotland by taking down former British Open champion Paul Lawrie, 3 and 1.
Next up for McIlroy is Bae Sang-moon of South Korea, the surprise in his first Match Play Championship. Bae won three times last year on the Japan Golf Tour. And while he made it through Q-school to earn a PGA Tour card, he ended last year at No. 30 in the world.
He is no stranger in global golf, as McIlroy knows all too well.