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And Then There Were Two

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No. 21 vs. No. 55, that's who'll face-off in the finals of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Pierre Fulke and Steve Stricker advanced into the 36-hole final by defeating Ernie Els and Toru Taniguchi, respectively, in Saturday's semi-finals.
 
Fulke, the 21st seed, topped top-seeded Els 2-and-1, while Stricker disposed of 30th-seeded Taniguchi by the same count at the Metropolitan Golf Club in Melbourne, Australia.
 
Fulke and Stricker will battle Sunday for the $1-million first-place prize, with the runner-up cashing half of that. Els and Taniguchi will tangle in the consolation match, with the winner earning $400,000 and the loser garnering $300K.
 
After struggling to defeat Craig Stadler 1-up in Saturday morning's quarterfinal match, Els continue his wayward play in the afternoon.
 
Despite winning the third hole to go 1-up, the South African found himself 1-down by the turn, thanks to back-to-back birdies by Fulke at the eighth and ninth holes.
 
A bogey at the 10th pulled Els all-square, as Fulke carded a double-bogey six, but a three-putt par at the par-5 12th cost him a chance at remaining there. Fulke carded a birdie to regain a 1-up advantage, and then dropped in a 20-foot curler for birdie at the 15th to move to 2-up with three to play.
 
Following a halve at the 16th, Els played the shot of the week at the par-4 17th, threading a five-iron through a gap between two trees to within 15 feet of the hole.
 
Unfortunately for Els, he missed the birdie attempt that would have prolonged the match. Instead, Fulke, who won the 2000 Scottish PGA and Volvo Masters, calmly sank a five-foot par save for a 2-and-1 victory.
 
'We both played pretty scruffy,' said Fulke, 'but beating Ernie, regardless of the score, in match play is pretty phenomenal.'
 
After beating Nick O'Hern in 20 holes in the quarterfinals, Stricker won the first hole in his afternoon match with Taniguchi and never looked back.
 
Prior to losing the first hole of the semi-finals, Taniguchi had yet to trail in the tournament, which for him spanned 68 holes. This match however, the Japanese player trailed throughout.
 
Stricker built a 3-up lead through 11 holes, before Taniguchi made a late run, capturing the 12th and 13th holes to get within 1-down.
 
The turning point proved to be at the par-4 16th. Having pulled his tee shot into the left trees, Stricker was forced to play his second shot left-handed. The 33-year-old, using the toe of his club, chipped back into the fairway some 160 yards from the flag, and then proceeded to knock his third shot to within 12 feet of the cup.
 
Stricker made his par save to halve the hole and remain 1-up. He carried that momentum to the par-3 16th, where he stuck his tee shot to six feet for birdie and another win.
 
Stricker then forced a halve at the 17th to win his match 2-and-1.
 
'That first match really took a lot out of me, but I came out in the afternoon a lot more relaxed,' said Stricker, who is seeking his first win since the 1996 Western Open. 'I'm gonna have to go home and try to relax and come out with a fresh attitude tomorrow.'
 
Having advanced into the finals, Stricker is guaranteed to earn more money this week than he did all of last season ($418,780).
 
Sunday's 36-hole final will be reminiscent of the first Match Play Championship, in which 24th-seeded Jeff Maggert defeated 50th-seeded Andrew Magee in 38 holes.

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