Kavarna, Bulgaria – Graeme McDowell advanced to the World Match Play Championship round of 16 with a win over Stephen Gallacher on Friday, while Ian Poulter suffered an early exit.
McDowell, ranked eighth in the world, defeated Chris Wood at Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort on Thursday before dispatching Gallacher, 4 & 2, a day later to clinch a third-round berth. Wood also played his way into the weekend with a win over Gallacher early Friday.
Poulter, the 2011 champion of this event and recent Ryder Cup hero, couldn't live up to his reputation as a match play ace and was sent packing after falling to Thomas Aiken on the final hole Friday. The 1-up decision pushed Aiken through to the round of 16, while Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee comfortably clinched a spot with wins over both players.
"There is no excuse for that display of golf over the last two days," said Poulter. "I should have been able to finish the match off. My concentration was simply not there and therefore you make mental errors when you have not used your brain. It's completely unacceptable."
Henrik Stenson, who tied for fifth at last week's Players Championship, also endured a surprising early exit. The Swede fell to Ryder Cup star Francesco Molinari on Day 1, and when the Italian dispatched Felipe Aguilar, 4 & 3, on Friday, the two losers squared off in a win-or-go-home duel. Aguilar, the lowest ranked player in the field, prevailed, taking the last four holes to oust Stenson, 3 & 1.
"Starting the day, I knew this was the match I needed to win because no matter what happened with Francesco, I needed to win this match," said Aguilar. "I played pretty good -- I think the difference was I didn't make any bogeys, so I played like medal play and only took a risk on a few holes."
Defending champion Nicolas Colsaerts recovered from Thursday's loss to Branden Grace by defeating Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 3 & 2, on Friday. That triumph, coupled with Grace and Aphibarnrat halving Friday's afternoon match, pushed the reigning champ and the South African through to the weekend.
"I played a little better of course," said Colsaerts. "I kept the ball in play a bit more than yesterday. That's what the plan was, so mission accomplished."
Red-hot Brett Rumford and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano squared off in the afternoon, with the latter taking a 3 & 2 decision, but the match was elementary since both players defeated Jamie Donaldson earlier in the tournament to advance.
Rumford, coming off back-to-back wins at the Ballantine's Championship and China Open, is looking to become just the third player in history to win three consecutive events on the European Tour. The others are Nick Faldo in 1983 and Seve Ballesteros three years later.
"I'm really happy," said Rumford. "Jamie got off to a bad start and I capitalized on that and was 3-up after four holes. I wanted to try to conserve as much energy as I could, so it was nice to close it out sooner rather than later."
Bo Van Pelt, the only American in the field, squeezed through to the weekend courtesy of halved matches with Geoff Ogilvy and Richard Sterne, who also advanced with a 5 & 4 win over Ogilvy.
Peter Hanson, Shane Lowry and George Coetzee all finished with two points, resulting in the only playoff of the day. Hanson and Lowry eventually advanced from that group.
Swede Carl Pettersson, who has rejoined the European Tour in an attempt to qualify for the Ryder Cup, and Scott Jamieson also moved on Friday, rounding out the group of 16.
NOTES: McDowell is playing his first European Tour event of the year after posting four top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour, including a victory at the RBC Heritage ... Poulter won the WGC-Accenture Match Play title in 2010 ... The 24-man field was divided into eight groups of three players, with everyone playing two matches and the top two players from each group advancing to the single elimination matches on Saturday and Sunday ... Last year, Colsaerts defeated McDowell, 1-up, in the final.