Tanihara blazes into the semifinals after another day of impressive play

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Roars could be heard from all corners of the golf course on Saturday at Austin Country Club.

With the field narrowed to 16 competitors to begin the day, stakes were high and the emotions of the crowd reverberated through the peaks and valleys of the hill country links.     

Even with many of the big-name golfers missing the weekend at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, there was still plenty of star power on the course to begin the knockout rounds.

Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and even Brooks Koepka drew huge crowds to their groups as fans lined the fairways to get a glimpse of their favorite golfers.

But some of the best golf of the day might have come from the group with one of the smallest followings on the course.

Hideto Tanihara, who came into the week as one of the lowest ranked players in the field, kept up his red-hot play and won both of his matches. His victories secured him a spot in the final four on Sunday.

His opponent in the semi-finals? World No. 1 Dustin Johnson – arguably the only player in the field playing better golf than Tanihara this week.

“He looks unbeatable,” Tanihara joked in his post-round press conference.

But at this point, he has nothing to lose.

In a month when sports fans thirst for the next Cinderella, Tanihara may best fit the glass slipper. His mentality all week has screamed “kid in a candy store” – just happy to be here.

“I really enjoy it,” Tanihara said. “We don’t get that much opportunity to play with all these great players (in Japan), so it’s really fun.”  

But since he’s been here, he’s sure made a lot of noise.

Tanihara came into the week so much of an unknown that Jordan Spieth admitted he didn’t know anything about his first-round opponent. Tanihara promptly handed Spieth a 4 and 2 loss in their opening round match.

“Plays a simple game,” Spieth said of Tanihara. “Point A to Point B. He only made one mistake all day.”

From there, Tanihara halved his match with Ryan Moore and defeated Yuta Ikeda 3 and 1 to move on to the knockout rounds. Tanihara admitted he is embracing the competition this event has provided. The winning is nice too.

“I'm just glad that I'm playing really well and moving forward,” Tanihara said.

Saturday was more of the same. Paul Casey, known as a strong match play player, met the unfortunate fate of drawing Tanihara as his opponent in the round of 16. Tanihara closed the match on the 17th hole with a birdie from inside five feet.

His afternoon match was another dominating performance. He raced out to a 4 up lead over Ross Fisher after nine holes – eventually stretching the lead to 5 up – and won the match 4 and 2.  

Tanihara credits the success to his center-shafted putter – what he calls the “ace putter.”  

“When I stroke it, it feels really good,” Tanihara said.

With the No. 1 played in the world waiting in the semi-finals, Tanihara acknowledges he has a difficult task at hand. But he has a plan to keep the clock from striking midnight prematurely.  

“If I can make all of my putts in one putt,” Tanihara said with a smile. “Then I think I will win.”