- Associated Press - Saturday, February 25, 2012

MARANA, Arizona — Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood set up a high-stakes showdown in the semifinals of the Match Play Championship.

Westwood erased an early deficit to beat Martin Laird 3 and 2 on Saturday. McIlroy never trailed in beating Bae Sang-moon of South Korea by the same margin. They play each other in the semifinals early Sunday, each with a shot at replacing Luke Donald at No. 1 by winning this World Golf Championship.

“It definitely gives the match an extra bit of spice,” McIlroy said.

Hunter Mahan played the shortest quarterfinal in the 14-year history of the event by beating Matt Kuchar, 6 and 5. His semifinal will be against Mark Wilson, gaining more respect the deeper he goes in the bracket. Wilson had an easy time in his 4-and-3 win over Peter Hanson of Sweden.

That ensures an American will reach the final for the first time since Tiger Woods won in 2008.

The semifinals will be followed by the 18-hole final in the afternoon.

With a strong breeze, firmer conditions, tough hole locations and only four quarterfinals, Saturday at Dove Mountain was lacking excitement. For the first time ever, none of the quarterfinals reached the 17th hole.

McIlroy and Westwood saved the day.

For starters, it’s the first time the Match Play Championship semifinals have featured two of the top four seeds since 2004, when Woods and Davis Love III advanced. McIlroy is No. 2, and Westwood is No. 3.

And while they consider themselves friends, there was a testy exchange between them last summer on Twitter, and McIlroy later left the International Sports Management stable.

Westwood already has been No. 1 in the world, and said his priority was picking up his first WGC title. McIlroy already is a major champion, having won at Congressional last summer in the U.S. Open, and would become at 22 the second-youngest player behind Woods to reach No. 1 in the world.

“My priorities were to win major championships and win World Golf Championships because I haven’t ever won any,” Westwood said. “I’ve been at No. 1 couple of times. It would be a different way of thinking to me compared to Rory, who hasn’t been No. 1. He may be thinking about it, but my main goal is to play well — or play as well as I’ve been playing — tomorrow morning and try and win that match.”

Getting to this stage has been relatively easy.

McIlroy had to go to the 18th hole in the opening round, but has had little resistance since then. He took the lead for good over Bae with a birdie on the 11th hole, then stretched his advantage when Bae chopped up the 13th hole and missed the par-4 15th green on the wrong side and had to settle for par.

Westwood had a tougher time on Saturday, but not for long.

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