IAN POULTER (60) def. RORY MCILROY (11), 6 and 5
In a match of European Ryder Cup partners, McIlroy struggled mightily, and Poulter, a match-play gladiator, made sure to keep him down. McIlroy gave away the par-3 fourth (three-putt) and par-4 fifth (where his tee shot finished at the bottom of a resident’s backyard pool). Poulter was 2 up at the turn and then reeled of wins on the next four holes, highlighted by an eagle-3 conceded from 8 feet at the par-5 12th. McIlroy made only two birdies, and when he chipped across the green into water from hole high at the drivable 13th, the match was over.
Said Poulter: “I got 3 up in that match early (through five). Being in that position against Rory, you don’t want to let him back in the match. If he gets any kind of flow, he’s going to be a really tough opponent to shrug off. … I had a stretch around the turn where I kind of kept the foot down and made it difficult.”
CAMERON SMITH (25) def. LANTO GRIFFIN (46), 1-up
Two down with three holes to play, Australia’s Cam Smith rallied to win all three to pull off a comeback victory. Griffin appeared in prime position to possibly close things out at the par-5 16th hole, but his pitch came up 10 feet shy of the hole. Smith made a 13-footer for birdie, and Griffin, competing in his first Match Play, missed his attempt. Smith was conceded the par-3 17th (he had 12 feet for birdie) after Griffin had an near-impossible bunker lie, and won the deciding hole with par when Griffin mis-hit a chip from behind the green. Smith evened his Match Play record to 4-4-1.
DYLAN FRITELLI (64) def. TONY FINAU (12), 6 and 5
Finau got off to a rough start, making double on his opening hole, and never did find his footing. Fritelli, in his second Match Play appearance, took control with birdies at the fourth, fifth and six holes, and built his cushion to 5-up when he birdied the par-4 10th hole from 7 feet. When Finau hit his tee shot into the water at the reachable 13th (288 yards), he was pretty much done.
Fritelli is the lowest-seeded player in the field (64), but is a former Texas Longhorn who knows the golf course and is sleeping in his own bed this week.
Fritelli said, “Tony obviously didn’t play well today. That wasn’t a true reflection on his game. He wasn’t on his game by any means, but I’d like to think if he did play well I still would have been competitive and maybe been 1 or 2 up going down the final few holes.”
JASON KOKRAK (29) def. WILL ZALATORIS (40), 1-up
The long-hitting Kokrak pulled off a quality comeback victory with birdies on his final two holes. He hit a shot to 13 feet at the 152-yard 17th and laid back off the tee at the short, 370-yard finishing hole, hitting his approach from 114 yards inside 7 feet. Zalatoris led 1-up after birdie at the par-4 13th; Kokrak answered with a birdie at the next hole to tie the match; and Zalatoris then stepped up by making birdie at the par-5 16th, sinking a putt from 9 feet. From there, it was all Kokrak, who said he hadn’t played match play since his amateur days.
Kokrak said: “It’s something vastly different than what we normally do because every shot counts no matter what. If you get it out of play, you lay it up and you take your bogey and you go on. In this format it doesn’t matter what you make, if you make a birdie you win a hole, if you make a 12 you lose the hole. So I think it’s a lot of fun.”
KEVIN STREELMAN (53) def. VIKTOR HOVLAND (13), 4 and 2
Streelman had not been in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play field since 2014, but he’s a man who can get hot and make a lot of birdies, so this should be a great format for him. He took it to the younger Hovland in the opening round of pool play, winning two of the first three holes, and never trailed. Three-up on the 15th tee, Streelman went birdie-birdie (making a 40-footer at 15, and conceded a 4-footer at 16) and closed out the match. Hovland, who ranks 10th on the PGA TOUR in birdie average, made only one birdie in 16 holes.
Streelman said: “I played nicely last week and made a bunch of birdies at the Honda, just a few too many mistakes, but the putter feels nice and I tend to drive it and hit it pretty good, so who knows what can happen.”
ABRAHAM ANCER (27) def. BERND WIESBERGER (43), 3 and 2
Ancer played nicely, jumping out to a big early lead. After having to punch out at the par-5 sixth, he ripped a 6-iron to 3 feet for a surprising birdie that staked him to a 4-up lead. From there, it was a matter of not beating himself with mistakes. He was conceded the par-3 11th and went 5-up when he won the par-5 12th with a par. Wiesberger would birdie the 13th and 15th holes, but it was way too late.
Ancer said: “I got away with a couple of holes (in the middle of the round), but other than that I played really solid. Didn’t really make that many dumb mistakes, and hitting the ball well.”
DANIEL BERGER (14) def. ERIK VAN ROOYEN (62), 6 and 4
Berger put injury (rib) questions to rest with a decisive victory, rocking van Rooyen with five front-nine birdies and never looking back. Van Rooyen, meanwhile, never got going. He made just one birdie, bogeyed the par-5 sixth, and double-bogeyed the par-4 13th hole. With two wins since last June, Berger came to Austin having gone 1-8-0 in three WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play starts, never having gotten out of group play. He didn’t qualify for the tournament in 2019, but is off to a much-improved start in 2021.
HARRIS ENGLISH (19) def. BRENDON TODD (47), 1-up
In a match of good friends that featured only three birdies, these two Georgia Bulldogs went down to the final putt. Todd had a chance to tie the match at 18, but his birdie putt from 15 feet grazed the left edge of the hole, leaving Harris to convert a short par putt for the victory. Harris never trailed in the match, and was 2 up with three to play, but handed away the 16th, losing to a par. Todd had two good looks at 17 and 18 but didn’t get a putt to go. He slips to 0-4-0 all-time in the Match Play.
Harris said: “We play a lot of practice rounds together, and we’ve known each other a long time. … It’s definitely tougher (to play a friend). I was pulling for Brendon today. You never really want to beat a friend. It was a good match.”
MATTHEW WOLFF (20) def. COREY CONNERS (37), 3 and 1
A battle of WGC-Dell Technology Match Play rookies got tight before Wolff won four straight holes (Nos. 12-15) to flip the match. Conners, who took a 2-up lead with three front-nine birdies, came in as the underdog but was the hotter player after being in contention at THE PLAYERS Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard. Wolff, who has struggled in 2021, came alive late, playing holes 12-16 in 3 under as Conners played them in 1 over. Just like that, Wolff went from 2-down to 2-up. He birdied the par-3 17th hole, his fourth in a span of six holes, to close it out.
JORDAN SPIETH (49) def. MATT FITZPATRICK (15), 3 and 1
Jordan Spieth continued to build off his recent run of good finishes with a solid opening win. He built a commanding 3-up lead over Fitzpatrick through nine holes and never was in danger of letting his opponent back in the match. Fitzpatrick, who has struggled in this event (he now is 4-9-0), did not make his first birdie until the 16th hole. Spieth answered with a birdie at the 17th, where he hit his tee shot to 8 feet.
Said Spieth, “I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Matt has won a U.S. Amateur, and he’s in every single hole. He doesn’t make too many mistakes. Fortunately, I got off to a good start, and it allowed me to play some safer shots and give myself some looks. I struck my irons really well. If you can get your irons dialed in out here, it’s a huge advantage.”
SUNGJAE IM (16) def. RUSSELL HENLEY (50), 1-up
The first tee was the only time this match was tied. Im holed a 20-foot birdie putt on the first hole and led the entire way, but Henley hung tough. Im was 3-up at the turn but Henley won the next two holes. They tied the final seven holes, however, and Im escaped with a 1-up win. Im is making his debut in this event.
VICTOR PEREZ (31) def. MARC LEISHMAN (36), 2 and 1
Leishman was 1-up after 11 but Perez won the next two holes to take the lead. Leishman hit it in the water on the par-5 12th and Perez hit his approach to 5 feet at the next. He took control on 16 after he hit a driver off the deck to within 20 feet and won the hole with birdie.
Said Perez: “To me match play is just like playing on Sunday. It’s pretty much right in front of you. You know what to do, which gives you clarity.”
Source: PGA tour