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, winning 4 and 2 to reach the semifinals in this fickle tournament for the first time in 13 years.
It was the first time all week that Els made more birdies than bogeys during an 18-hole match, yet he somehow has survived.
"At times I haven't played my best, as you guys have well-documented," Els said with a laugh. "But it's match play. I've just done enough to get through."
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 and featured smaller fields and 36-hole matches.
This version hasn't been kind to him. He reached the semifinals in 2001, only to lose to Pierre Fulke. Els didn't imagine it would take this long to get back.
"I really had a love-hate relationship with this event," he said. "Most of the time, I lost in the first round here either on the 18th or 19th hole."
Graeme McDowell was the only other player with greater fortune on his side, but that ended Saturday at Dove Mountain (Ariz.).
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 to Victor Dubuisson.
They were all square when Dubuisson hit a beautiful chip from the rough behind the 16th green and saved par, while McDowell missed a 6-foot par putt.
After matching pars on the 17th, Dubuisson's shot into the 18th green rolled off the false front. He chipped perfectly and was conceded his par, and McDowell missed his 25-foot birdie putt.
Els plays Dubuisson in Sunday morning's semifinals. The finals will follow.
Jason Day reached the semifinals for the second straight year with a 2-and-1 win over Louis Oosthuizen, who played with a nagging back injury.
Also, Rickie Fowler lost a 3-up lead to Jim Furyk, only to win the last two holes for a 1-up win.
LPGA: Anna Nordqvist shot a 5-under 67 at the LPGA Thailand for a four-stroke lead over Michelle Wie (69) and Inbee Park (67) at the Siam Country Club. "Didn't really take advantage of the par 5s, but I can't really complain," Wie said. Nordqvist, at 11-under 205, had an eagle on 10.