Golf: Down but not out, Dustin and Rory live to fight another day

Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy would have exited Austin Country Club after 18 holes on Wednesday, delivering a knockout to the WGC-Dell Technologies event's ratings had the pre-2015 rules applied.
Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy would have exited Austin Country Club after 18 holes on Wednesday, delivering a knockout to the WGC-Dell Technologies event's ratings had the pre-2015 rules applied.PHOTOS: AFP

LOS ANGELES • Sponsors and broadcasters prefer the World Golf Championships Matchplay tournament to begin with a round-robin rather than a straight-elimination format, and it is easy to see why following the opening-day upsets.

Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy would have exited Austin Country Club after 18 holes on Wednesday, delivering a knockout to the WGC-Dell Technologies event's ratings had the pre-2015 rules applied.

Johnson, the defending champion and world No. 1, was the biggest casualty of the day as he slipped to a 3 and 1 loss to Bernd Wiesberger.

McIlroy's 2 and 1 defeat by Peter Uihlein also raised eyebrows despite the popular Northern Irishman having to endure an 18-month PGA Tour title drought that ended on Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

In both cases, it would be remiss not to recognise the performances of the winners - Wiesberger, a European Ryder Cup hopeful, and world No. 63 Uihlein both displayed nerveless touch in illustrious company.

"I thought it was the easiest game I could have; I'm the underdog playing with the defending champion," said Austrian Wiesberger.

McIlroy admitted to being "a little flat" and, while he remains part of the tournament equation, he must beat Brian Harman and Jhonattan Vegas if his Masters build-up is to be extended beyond three rounds.

He also needs Uihlein to be halted elsewhere. Perhaps, quietly, he would not actually mind a less arduous scenario with Augusta looming.

"I didn't really necessarily play badly,"McIlroy said.

"He played pretty well... he didn't make a bogey all day. So it was hard to claw my way back.

"I made a run at him at the end but it was a little too late."

It was therefore a case of the highs of Bay Hill to the lows of Austin for McIlroy.

American Uihlein delivered three birdies, a lead which the four-time Major winner could not surmount.

Second seed Justin Thomas was a 2-up winner over Luke List while British Open champion Jordan Spieth eked out a 2 and 1 victory over Charl Schwartzel.

"This tournament, to an extent, you can say it has a bit of luck to it," the American world No. 4 said.

The winners of the 16 groups will advance to the knockout stage.

Johnson and McIlroy will get another chance to make amends today, as the tournament dispenses with the knockout format until the weekend.

REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN

WGC-DELL MATCH PLAY
Day 3: StarHub Ch204/213, tomorrow, 2am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2018, with the headline 'Down but not out, Dustin and Rory live to fight another day'. Print Edition | Subscribe