Dustin's 'fall' may be good omen

American world No. 1 Dustin Johnson watching his tee shot at the fifth hole in his second group match at the WGC Matchplay on Thursday. The defending champion enjoyed his only birdie of the round here and was knocked out of the event after losing 4 a
American world No. 1 Dustin Johnson watching his tee shot at the fifth hole in his second group match at the WGC Matchplay on Thursday. The defending champion enjoyed his only birdie of the round here and was knocked out of the event after losing 4 and 3 to Canadian Adam Hadwin.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Matchplay holder's elimination gives him quieter run-up to Masters; Rahm also exits

LOS ANGELES • Dustin Johnson may take solace from the fact that this year's pre-Masters slip was not of the physical variety.

A year on from securing a World Golf Championships title in Mexico and cantering to success at another, the Matchplay, he was unceremoniously bundled out of this year's event after two defeats in as many days at the Austin Country Club in Texas on Thursday.

Johnson had appeared at Augusta as the red-hot favourite in 2017 but did not hit a shot in anger after tumbling down the stairs at his rental home.

Perhaps this, now an inevitably less fevered build-up, will suit him.

Canada's Adam Hadwin, who started this week as the world's 42nd-ranked player, joined Bernd Wiesberger in seeing off Johnson.

Hadwin's success was by 4 and 3, and further ominous context for Johnson resonated in Austrian Wiesberger, who had seen off the defending champion 3 and 1 on Wednesday, before falling 5 and 4 to Kevin Kisner.

The defeat made it impossible for world No. 1 Johnson to progress from Group One in the round-robin phase to the weekend's knockout rounds, with Hadwin assured of finishing above the top seed.

Hadwin admitted he had expected a tougher challenge from Johnson, saying: "Obviously I really expected Dustin to play a lot better than he did, I think everybody did coming into this week. I played extremely solid all day long."

Also eliminated was Spain's third seed Jon Rahm - who lost to Johnson in last year's final - after falling to 43rd seed Chez Reavie, who won 1-up.

A troublesome Thursday for Johnson was in stark contrast to that enjoyed by Rory McIlroy.

The Northern Irishman responded in ideal fashion from an opening-round defeat by Peter Uihlein by seeing off Venezuelan Jhonattan Vegas 2 and 1.

McIlroy's aspirations of reaching the knockout phase were further boosted by Uihlein's 3 and 2 loss to Brian Harman.

"At least that sort of brought things back into my own hands, which is nice," the world No. 7 said.

"That's the beauty of this group play. Some years it works in your favour, like this year, and some years it doesn't, like last.

"It's nice to still have something to play for. I came out of the gates a little flat yesterday but I felt better today. I'm happy I got the win and I've got a lot to play for. I've always loved the matchplay."

World No. 4 Jordan Spieth was a 4 and 2 victor over China's Li Haotong, while world No. 2 Justin Thomas also scored his second straight win, beating Patton Kizzire 3 and 1. Phil Mickelson, seeded 14th, birdied two of his last three holes in a 1-up win over Japan's Satoshi Kodaira.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

WGC-DELL MATCHPLAY

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2018, with the headline 'Dustin's 'fall' may be good omen'. Print Edition | Subscribe