WASHINGTON – An unpredictable opening day at the World Golf Championships Match Play on Wednesday saw wins for top-ranked Scottie Scheffler and world No. 3 Rory McIlroy but a surprise loss for second-ranked Jon Rahm.
American seventh seed Will Zalatoris and Norwegian eighth seed Viktor Hovland were also among five top group seeds to fall at Austin Country Club. Sixteen winners from four-man groups will advance to weekend knockout rounds.
Reigning Masters champion Scheffler, who won the Players Championship earlier in March, sank a 13-foot birdie putt at the 18th hole to edge 54th seed Davis Riley 2&1.
“Fortunate to come away with a win,” he said. “I’m going to remember that putt on the last hole and take that energy into tomorrow.”
Scheffler, who never trailed, holed out from 52 feet for eagle to win the par-four fifth hole and eagled from 24 feet to take the par-four 13th.
Riley missed a three-foot birdie putt at the par-five 16th that would have pulled him level but Scheffler missed a 3½-foot putt at the par-three 17th to win the match.
“I got off to a really good start. Outside of that, I didn’t really play great,” Scheffler added. “Fortunately I saw that putt go in on 18.”
South Korean Tom Kim edged Sweden’s Alex Noren 2&1 in Scheffler’s group.
“Alex definitely is a fighter and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Kim said. “I just kind of kept my head down, but very fortunate to walk off with a win today.”
Spain’s Rahm fell to 49th seed Rickie Fowler 2&1. Rahm, a three-time PGA winner in 2023, missed a par putt from just inside five feet to drop the 15th. Fowler then sank a seven-footer for par at the 16th and halved the 17th as well to win.
“Just had to stay patient and rely on iron play,” Fowler said. “I just kept grinding and pushing forward.”
It was his first appearance at the event since 2016 and Rahm’s first opening-match loss in six starts.
Four-time Major winner McIlroy beat American Scott Stallings 3&1 with a new putter and new driver.
“It was a good first outing for both those clubs,” he said. “They performed pretty well.”
The 2015 Match Play winner from Northern Ireland said the event helps prepare him for stroke-play challenges to come.
“There’s a ton of golf left this season but to get a bit of match play in our lives is good, and to get under pressure,” McIlroy said.
South Korean 16th seed Im Sung-jae beat American 58th seed Maverick McNealy 8&6, matching the most lopsided group win at Austin.
American 61st seed J.J. Spaun never trailed in upsetting England’s 11th-seeded Matt Fitzpatrick 5&3.
Spaun won four of the last five holes from the reigning US Open champion with three birdies and an eagle hole-out from 107 yards at the par-four 13th.
“I just slung it with the wind,” he said. “I could tell it was going to be pretty good, but then it got really good and then it just disappeared and the crowd went nuts.” AFP