MARANA, Ariz., Feb. 24 -- When Henrik Stenson located his tee shot in a thoroughly unplayable lie in the middle of an ugly, spiked desert bush at the 18th hole Saturday morning, he knew he needed a miracle shot to extend his quarterfinal match against Nick O'Hern in the World Match Play Championship at the Gallery Club at Dove Mountain.
His caddie, Fanny Sunesson, gingerly plucked his golf ball out from under some lethal thorns -- "she almost sacrificed her right arm," Stenson said -- and he was forced to take a penalty stroke. He dropped on a sandy hard-pan lie 122 yards from the flag, then hit what he described as a "fantastic" wedge that landed 10 feet past the hole and spun back to within two feet of the cup.
When O'Hern missed a five-footer for par, Stenson smoothly stroked his putt into the cup and walked off the green with a most improbable par and even more remarkable 1-up victory against the Australian left-hander who had eliminated Tiger Woods the day before.
By the end of this cool, breezy day in the desert, the talented Swede now ranked No. 8 in the world took full advantage of that stunning 18th hole morning turnaround. In his afternoon semifinal against South African Trevor Immelman, Stenson made birdies on three of his first five holes and six of his first 10 for a 3-up advantage that propelled him to a 3 and 2 victory and advanced him to the 36-hole championship match Sunday against defending champion Geoff Ogilvy.
"Unbelievable, unbelievable," Stenson said of his morning victory. "I've never experienced anything like that, not when I came out on top, at least. . . . I just took dead aim with that pitching wedge. . . . It just shows you never give up."
The reigning U.S. Open champion from Australia, Ogilvy had his breathe-easy match in the morning, when he birdied three of his first five holes, took a three-up lead after six holes and coasted to a 5-and-4 quarterfinal victory over his friend and Phoenix neighbor, Englishman Paul Casey. In the afternoon, Ogilvy eliminated Chad Campbell, the last American among the final eight in the field, by a 3 and 2 margin, giving him an 11-0 overall record in the tournament in his only two career appearances. In five matches this week, Ogilvy has never had to play the 18th hole.
Woods is the only man to win this tournament in consecutive years, and Ogilvy is the only other player in the event's nine-year history to get to the finals over two straight years.
This was hardly the marquee weekend matchup NBC Sports, tournament organizers or the 18,000 ticket holders here in the Tucson suburbs had hoped for.
Ogilvy's success this week has been mostly about his putting. Against Campbell, he had seven birdies on his card, and clinched the match with an 18-foot birdie putt at the 178-yard 16th hole. Campbell had a 17-footer to keep the match alive, but missed to the right by about a foot. Ogilvy's most dramatic putt of the round came at the 479-yard 13th. When Campbell made a 35-footer for par there, Ogilvy knocked his own 30-foot attempt into the cup to halve the hole and keep his 2-up advantage.
"I'm sure it annoyed the hell out of him," Ogilvy said. "It was a ridiculous putt."
"He's a fiery golfer," Casey said after Ogilvy had eliminated him in the morning. "But he also seemed to have a good temperament out there. He doesn't give guys any holes. He keeps it in play. He gives himself lots of opportunities for birdies, and he's always putting the pressure on the opponent. There's not a lot you can do against guys like that."
Stenson, who lives in Dubai and will split time between the U.S. and European tours this season, seems to play with little pulse, as evidenced by his ability to deal with that unplayable lie in the morning round. O'Hern, who had advanced to the quarterfinals after Woods had missed a four-foot putt that would have clinched the match at the first extra playoff hole, said he wasn't at all surprised by Stenson's morning heroics.
"I knew he'd hit a good shot, and he did, all credit to him," O'Hern said. "It got me today, and did me today, yeah. It's a funny game."