MARANA, Ariz. — Before the first shot of the Match Play Championship, and before the first snowfall, Hunter Mahan was asked for three players with the best reputation in match play.
Ian Poulter was on his list.
Now he gets to find out for himself.
Poulter again proved to be one tough customer Saturday when he beat Steve Stricker with one big putt after another, advancing to the semifinals and improving his record in match play around the world to 19-3-2 over the last four years.
Next up is Mahan, who is leaving his own mark at Dove Mountain. Mahan outlasted U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson in 18 holes, leaving him two wins away from joining Tiger Woods as the only repeat winners of this World Golf Championship. Not only has Mahan won every match he has played — 11 in a row — over the last two years, he now has gone 151 consecutive holes at the Match Play Championship without trailing.
Poulter is aiming for his second Match Play win in the last four years.
“I have so much respect for the guy and how he plays,” Mahan said. “There’s not one part of his game that really shines. He has a great short game and he’s a great putter, but to me, his determination and his will is his greatest strength. He’s never going to think he’s out of a hole.”
Not to be outdone, Matt Kuchar reached the semifinals for the second time in three years with steady play, rarely taking himself out of position. That proved way too much for Robert Garrigus, who was 4 down through 10 holes and didn’t make it beyond the 16th green.
Kuchar will play Jason Day of Australia, who won a tight match against Graeme McDowell in 18 holes.
The biggest stars in golf might be long gone. In their place are two guys who might be the best in match play over the last few years.
“I know it’s not the top four in the world, probably what everyone was hoping for,” Mahan said. “But there’s been a lot of great golf played, a lot of great shot, a lot of great putts. There’s a lot of great players.”
Along with a perfect singles record in the Ryder Cup, Poulter has won the WGC version of the Match Play Championship and the World Match Play Championship in Spain in 2011. He wasn’t aware of his sterling record since 2010, nor did he sound terribly surprised.
“I’m pretty proud of it,” he said. “Does it surprise me? I love match play.”