As we’ve seen in the WGC-Match Play’s no-longer-new format, the first three marathon days of round robin are action-packed. Wednesday at Austin Country Club was no different. There were “upsets”, matches that went the distance and a few very impressive performances from some of golf’s biggest stars. If you missed any of the action, we’ll help you get caught up below.
Rory McIlroy dominates
Fresh off a victory in the Players Championship, Rory picked up right where he left off on Wednesday, taking an early 1 up lead over Luke List with a birdie at the second hole. List hung in there, reaching the eighth tee still only 1 down, but back-to-back bogeys saw him make the turn 2 down to McIlroy, and Rory slammed the door from there. The Northern Irishman, who won this event in 2015 and has been a Ryder Cup stalwart over the years, won four of the next five holes, closing out List with birdies at 13 and 14 to win 5 and 4.
Surprisingly, this is the first time McIlroy has won his opening match since 2016, which is also the last time he’s made the Round of 16, ultimately losing to Rafa Cabrera Bello in the consolation third-place match. Judging off his recent form, and the fact he’ll take on another heavy underdog in South Africa’s Justin Harding on Thursday (Harding beat Matthew Fitzpatrick in his opening match), Rory looks to be in good position to get back into the dance in 2019.
Tiger Woods gets a win!
OK, so it’s not quite a “win” this season yet, but it still feels good to type out “Tiger Woods wins,” even if it’s just one match. As Woods stated afterwards, his battle with the young Aaron Wise wasn’t pretty, especially early. Woods won the first hole with a bogey, then the second with a par before Wise got him back at the third with a par of his own. Then at the fourth, Woods took another 2 up lead … with another par. Not exactly highlight-reel material, save for one 33-foot par putt at No. 7 that earned Woods a halve:
“We weren’t playing that great today,” said Woods. “We were both struggling a little bit. If this was a stroke play event, we’d be pretty far behind. But it was just trying to beat the guy in front of you and that was about it.”
Luckily for the both of them, it wasn’t stroke play, allowing them to eventually settle in and trade blows. Wise even took a 1 up lead with birdies at the ninth and 10th, but Woods was able to square the match at the 11th and never go down again, winning 3 and 1 at the par-3 17th. Next up for Tiger is Brandt Snedeker, who
tied halved (not going to get used to tied) his match with Patrick Cantlay thanks to a clutch 33-foot birdie putt at the 18th. So Woods is in a very good spot as the only member of his group with a full point.
Jordan Spieth fights back for a half point
After going 3 down through five holes to Billy Horschel, the Spieth panic button was being smashed with a sledgehammer. But he showed some real guts, halving the par-5 sixth with a birdie and then doing this at the par-3 seventh:
Just a ridiculous shot that showed the three-time major champion is not completely lost out there, and when he won the next two holes to square the match, he was officially BACK! Well, that lasted all of four holes. Here’s what he did with his drive at the 14th:
This scene, Spieth looking like he’s not even on the property, has become an all-too-familiar one this season. He has hit some woeful drives reminiscent of the one he hit at Royal Birkdale, but just like he did at Birkdale, Spieth clawed back on Wednesday. He lost the 14th and 15th holes to go 2 down, but won the 16th with a par, halved the 17th with a birdie and birdied the 18th to halve the match. It was a grind, and Spieth never led, but earning a half point had to feel like a victory with the way the match looked early. That’s (sort of) how he saw it afterwards.
“I’m not looking to be validated or not validated, I’m just looking for progress,” said Spieth. “And I’ve made progress. And today was the best that I think — kind of the best as far as the finish goes, the best I’ve played under pressure in a little while. And I haven’t really been in the position to play under pressure for a little while. It was great to see that. That could certainly serve me well not only to the rest of this tournament but as we look in the next few weeks.”
We all know what’s coming in the next few weeks, and that’s likely where Spieth’s focus currently lies: Augusta National. If he can get right over these next two days, even if he doesn’t make the Round of 16, he could look back at Wednesday as a big moment. On Thursday he’ll face Kevin Na, who took down Bubba Watson in his opening match and has the only full point in their group.
When it comes to match play involving the best players in the world, it’s hard to call anything an “upset” or “shocking.” There are no UMBC over Virginia type moments in this event, but there are definitely some slightly surprising victories, and the biggest from Wednesday has to be Lucas Bjerregaard taking down Justin Thomas, 3 and 2. And Thomas never really had a chance to win, though he did have a sliver of hope to at least get a half point up until this happened:
Tough break for JT, who made the final four a year ago before falling to eventual winner Bubba Watson. Again, calling this an upset is pushing it. Bjerregaard has soared up the Official World Golf Ranking in the last year, going from 201st to as high as 45th thanks to nine top 10s on the European Tour since April of 2018 and a win at the 2018 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. He’s the type of player who American fans could become acquainted with in the majors this year, or perhaps as early as this week if he keeps this up.
As for the other upsets, I guess you could call Andrew Putnam beating Masters winner Patrick Reed 3 and 2 an upset? Though, with Reed, um, working through some things right now, it may have been more surprising had he won on Wednesday.
Best of the rest
After a rough Sunday at the Players, Jon Rahm has responded with a T-6 at the Valspar Championship and an absolute drubbing of Si Woo Kim in his opening match at Austin CC. Rahm’s margin of victory, 7 and 5, was the largest of the day.
How about HaoTong Li? The 23-year-old rising star from China easily handled Alex Noren on Wednesday, going 1 up on the opening hole and never relinquishing the lead, eventually winning 5 and 4. His second match against Brooks Koepka, who earned half point against England’s Tom Lewis, has some sneaky potential to be great.
In not-so-shocking news, Ian Poulter won his match over Kevin Kisner. Poults got a tough draw with Kiz and a pair of bombers in Tony Finau and Keith Mitchell, and yet you still have to like his chances to come out of that group based on his match-play prowess. Guy is a savage in this format.
We’ll finish with Bubba, who pulled a move hackers everywhere can respect. We’ve all been here, struggling to get the heck out of a bunker and wanting to crawl underneath the sand and bury yourself:
The rest of the results from Wednesday’s opening matches can be seen below.
Dustin Johnson df Chez Reavie, 4 and 3
Branden Grace df Hideki Matsuyama, 4 and 3
Justin Rose df Emiliano Grillo, 2 and 1
Gary Woodland df Eddie Pepperell, 2 and 1
Brooks Koepka halved Tom Lewis
Haotong Li df Alex Noren, 5 and 4
Rory McIlroy df Luke List, 5 and 4
Justin Harding df Matthew Fitzpatrick, 1 up
Lucas Bjerregaard df Justin Thomas, 3 and 2
Matt Wallace df Keegan Bradley, 1 up
Bryson DeChambeau df Russell Knox, 3 and 1
Marc Leishman df Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 2 up
Francisco Molinari df Satoshi Kodaira, 5 and 4
Thorbjorn Olesen df Webb Simpson, 2 and 1
Jon Rahm df Si Woo Kim, 7 and 5
Matt Kuchar df J.B. Holmes, 3 and 1
Xander Schauffele df Lee Westwood, 1 up
Tyrrell Hatton df Rafa Cabrera Bello, 4 and 3
Paul Casey df Abraham Ancer, 5 and 3
Charles Howell III df Cameron Smith, 2 and 1
Tommy Fleetwood df Byeong Hun An, 3 and 2
Kyle Stanley df Louis Oosthuizen, 3 and 2
Henrik Stenson df Phil Mickelson, 2 and 1
Jim Furyk df Jason Day, 2 up
Tiger Woods df Aaron Wise, 3 and 1
Patrick Cantlay halved Brandt Snedeker
Tony Finau df Keith Mitchell, 2 and 1
Ian Poulter df Kevin Kisner, 2 up
Kevin Na df Bubba Watson, 1 up
Jordan Spieth halved Billy Horschel
Andrew Putnam df Patrick Reed, 3 and 2
Sergio Garcia df Shane Lowry, 4 and 2