McIlroy conquers nerves to make last 16

AUSTIN (Texas) • Defending champion Rory McIlroy advanced to the knockout stage of the WGC-Dell Matchplay on Friday after winning a nerve-wracking sudden-death play-off against Kevin Na.

McIlroy progressed to a last-16 showdown with in-form American Zach Johnson after his winner-takes-all Group 3 clash with Na finished all square after 18 holes at the Austin Country Club.

After both players parred the first sudden-death hole, McIlroy was handed the initiative when Na sent his drive into a hazard on the second.

He comfortably took care of business to par while Na made bogey.

"It was tough. All three of my matches this week have been pretty tough," said a relieved McIlroy.

"I didn't get off to the best of starts again, but I found my rhythm in the middle of the round and started to make some birdies. I had a couple of chances to maybe finish him in regulation.

"It took a mistake from him to get me over the line and obviously I'm just happy to be in the weekend."

McIlroy said he was looking forward to locking horns with 14th seed Johnson, who reached the last 16 with a 4&3 win over Ireland's Shane Lowry.

"This is a golf course that sets up perfectly for Zach," said McIlroy.

"If he can get it in play, he's going to be tough to beat. We've had some good battles over the years in the team format in Ryder Cup so tomorrow should be a good one."

Meanwhile, Australia's Jason Day became the first player to book his place in the last 16 after England's Paul Casey withdrew from their final group-stage match.

Casey was forced to concede after only six holes after complaining of stomach cramps.

His withdrawal ensured Day qualified as winner of Group 2 following earlier wins over Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee and Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell.

World No. 1 Jordan Spieth also did well, continuing his sizzling form in the city where he went to the University of Texas, buoyed by a supportive crowd as he beat fellow American Justin Thomas 3&2.

"Jumping off to a three-up lead early on the front nine for the third straight day takes a lot of stress off," said Spieth, who will defend his Masters title in two weeks.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 27, 2016, with the headline 'McIlroy conquers nerves to make last 16'. Print Edition | Subscribe