The Swiss, a five-time victor in California, could next face Rafael Nadal, should the Spanish second seed beat Karen Khachanov later on Friday. Tennis, like baseball, is becoming best understood with a calculator in hand.
"You look back at what I did well there, but you can't just copy-paste and play exactly the same thing again, " Federer said.
Federer, who can break out of a tie with Novak Djokovic with a record sixth title in the California desert, is on a collision course with three-time champion Nadal, who took on Russian Karen Khachanov in the quarter-finals. He fought off two break points in the second set, including the last game when he closed the match with a forehand victor off a short ball.
In Saturday's other semi-final, Austrian seventh seed Dominic Thiem will face Canada's 13th seed Milos Raonic.
Nadal now leads 23-15 in their head-to-head, but Federer has won the last five of their meetings.
"Not that I didn't expect it, " Federer said, "but it definitely went better than I thought it would".
Federer won his 100th career title in Dubai recently, leaving him eight from tying Jimmy Connors' record for most in the Open era.
"I'm holding my serve comfortably".
Federer earned the only break of the first set in the fifth game.
"Overall I'm very pleased with that performance", said Federer, who has reached the final four without dropping a set, winning 38 of his 39 service games. Federer netted back-to-back volleys to give Hurkacz hope and another break point. Hurkacz's backhand down the line just missed to give Federer match point, and the Swiss superstar won with a forehand. Today was a great lesson for me, " Hurkacz said.