Thomas wins 2 matches, closes in on No. 1

Justin Thomas has been playing like the best player in the world and with one more victory in the WGC-Dell Match Play he can take the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking from Dustin Johnson.

The second-seeded Thomas, 24, reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year, defeated No. 50 Si Woo Kim of South Korea, 6 and 5, in the Round of 16 and followed with a 2-and-1 victory over No. 45 Kyle Stanley on Saturday at Austin Country Club in Austin, Texas.

A victory over No. 35 Bubba Watson in Sunday morning’s semifinals would guarantee Thomas the No. 1 spot when the new rankings are released on Monday, even if he would lose the final.

“I played well again today, but I didn’t get off to a good start in the afternoon,” said Thomas, who captured the Honda Classic last month for his sixth victory in the last two years. “I missed a few short putts early, but then I was able to make some big par saves and take the lead on the back nine.

“Bubba obviously is in very good form and I have to hope I don’t get a real hot day from him, and play the best I can. I just try to play my game and try not to pay too much attention to my opponent. That’s all I can do.”

Watson earned his spot in the semifinals by defeating No. 18 Brian Harman, 2 and 1, in the morning and taking down Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand, 5 and 3, in the afternoon.

Said Watson: “The whole thing, we’re just focused on birdies. Play our game. If we shoot 67 every day and get beat, then we just get beat. So that’s what we’ve been trying to do is somehow shoot in the 60s, and 5-under is the number we’re trying to get to. … All in all, it was a great day. I made some putts, key putts. That’s how you win these matches is just make putts somewhere.

“It was a great match (against Aphibarnrat). I gave him one on 9, he gave me one on 10. We had difficult putts, him being the first putter on 11, putted it seven feet from the hole, so he missed that and I two-putted. Hitting that bunker shot on 12, two-putt again from 40 feet, 50 feet for birdie. And then making birdie on a tough hole, 13. So real fast, you have the pressure, you’re trying to focus on your shots, and then within minutes it feels like you’re cruising to victory.”

In the other semifinal, No. 13 Alex Noren of Sweden will take on No. 32 Kevin Kisner.

Noren, who reached the quarterfinals before losing to eventual champion Johnson last year, downed No. 19 Patrick Reed, 5 and 3, in the Round of 16 and beat No. 46 Cameron Smith of Australia, 4 and 2, in the quarterfinals.

“I played well at the beginning, (Smith) was better in the middle when I had some hiccups, and I was lucky he burned the edges on some putts,” said Noren, who has never won on the PGA Tour but lost on the sixth hole of a playoff to Jason Day of Australia last month in the Farmers Insurance Open. “I had a lot of birdie chances and put some pressure on him, but it could have gone either way.

“I’ve had a good tournament so far and I’m in good position to go for the win.”

Kisner got past No. 16 Matt Kuchar, 1 up, in the morning before rolling past No. 58 Ian Poulter of England, 8 and 6, later in the day.

“Probably didn’t see that one coming,” Kisner said of his rout against match-play ace Poulter. “I thought it was going to be a difficult match. Obviously Ian’s match play record speaks for itself. I got off to a good start making a few birdies. He made a few mistakes, and I was able to capitalize on those. And things just snowballed from there.

“ … I was more jacked to beat Kooch, really. Kooch is such a good player and our games are so similar. And I think we both made eight birdies this morning and I barely snuck out of there. I thought it was a lot of fun. I don’t know Ian that well, so I don’t really have a history with him, other than watching him kill us in the Ryder Cup.”

In other Round of 16 matches, Poulter ousted No. 25 Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, 2 and 1, Smith defeated No. 12 Tyrrell Hatton of England, also by 2 and 1, Stanley upset No. 7 Sergio Garcia of Spain, 3 and 1, and Aphibarnrat beat No. 59 Charles Howell III, 1 up.

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