By Steve Elling
MARANA, Ariz. -- Rory McIlroy's path to the final four, not to mention the world No. 1 position, is blocked by a familiar face ... sort of.
Now the tournament favorite, McIlroy will face largely unheralded rookie Sang-moon Bae on Saturday in the fourth round of the Accenture Match Play Championship, and while Bae is a new face on the PGA Tour, he's been around for a while.
In fact, McIlroy played alongside the powerful South Korean at the 2009 Korean Open in the final round, in the final group, and watched as Bae blew past him with a 4-under 67 to win. McIlroy shot 72 and finished T3 after starting the final day tied for the lead.
Bae, now 25, was one back of the leaders after three rounds, and took control of the tournament when he made three birdies in a row starting on the 11th. Bae earned his PGA Tour card last fall by finishing T8 at Qualifying School after three solid years on the Japan Tour, including topping the money list last year.
McIlroy, 22, is seeing to become the youngest winner at both the Accenture tournament and a World Golf Championships event. He dispatched Miguel Angel Jimenez on Friday, 3 and 1. Bae outlasted John Senden, 1 up, despite the fact that he had never before played in a match-play event.
"It's match play, so I only try to focus on my game, that's it," Bae said.
With a win, McIlroy can supplant Luke Donald as No. 1 in the world. He had little trouble with Jimenez, his former Ryder Cup teammate. McIlroy knocked five approach shots within seven feet of the flag on the front nine and jumped to an early 3-up lead.