On Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Rory McIlroy looked like his old, unstoppable self, finishing off a three-shot victory with a back-nine 31 at Bay Hill for career win No. 14. Three days later, he’s 0-1 at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, falling 2&1 to Peter Uihlein on day one at Austin Country Club in Austin, Texas. Had it not been for a late charge from McIlroy, the match might not have made it past the 15th hole.
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“I made him earn it at least. I made the score line a little more respectable,” said McIlroy. “I just came away a little flat. I didn’t really necessarily play badly. He played pretty well. It was a few under through 9, and got down early and he didn’t make a bogey all day. So it was — it was hard to sort of claw my way back.”
Such is life in the match play format, where you can feel in control one minute and walk away 1-down the next. But McIlroy is ready to get back at it on Thursday when he’ll take on Jhonattan Vegas (0-0-1).
“Forget it, go on to tomorrow. Obviously it’s out of my control now. So I’ve just got to win my next two matches and hopefully the draw works in my favor.”
As for Uihlein, it’s a promising start in his first WGC-Match Play appearance. He’ll look to get to 2-0 when he faces off with Brian Harman (0-0-1) on Thursday.
McIlroy wasn’t the only top player to go down, as world No. 1 Dustin Johnson also lost 3&1 to Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger, a win made all the more impressive when factoring in that Johnson did not trail on a single hole in any of his matches during his win here last year. On Wednesday, it looked as though we were headed for a similar week, when Johnson led 1-up after two holes and then led 1-up again through five. But after Wiesberger won the next two holes to grab a 1-up lead, Johnson never regained it, despite getting the match to all square on two different occasions.
“At the end of day, we both didn’t have a great day. I think we only made three birdies between us, which is not a lot out here. He gave me a couple of holes, I gave him a few. At the end of the day, I’m glad that I prevailed and got a win,” said Wiesberger.
Wiesberger looks to take control of the group on Thursday when he plays Kevin Kisner (0-0-1), while Johnson will face Adam Hadwin (0-0-1).
Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth had no such struggles, each getting off to a 1-0 start. Spieth defeated Charl Schwartzel 2&1 and Thomas defeated Luke List 2-up in an entertaining match that featured a bit of everything, like List using a wedge as a putter for most of the match and Thomas making an incredible par save from a tough lie. Spieth will play China’s HaoTong Li (0-1) before a potentially epic duel with Patrick Reed (1-0) on Friday, while Thomas gets Patton Kizzire (0-1).
Other highlights from day one included Ian Poulter defeating fellow countryman Tommy Fleetwood 3&2, Zach Johnson coming from 4-down to halve his match with Matt Kuchar, Jason Day beating James Hahn 4&2 and Bubba Watson dominating Branden Grace, 5&3. There were also a few other surprising upsets, like Julian Suri defeating Marc Leishman 3&2 and Charles Howell III defeating Phil Mickelson 3&2.
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