Dustin Johnson out but Rory McIlroy survives in Texas
WORLD number one and defending champion Dustin Johnson crashed out of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play with a game to play after suffering his second straight defeat.
Johnson never trailed at any point in his seven matches last year as he became the first player to win all four World Golf Championship titles.
But the 33-year-old lost to Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger on the opening day at Austin Country Club and was again out of sorts in a 4&3 defeat to Canada’s Adam Hadwin yesterday which guarantees he cannot qualify for the knockout stages.
An eagle on the sixth and a birdie from 35 feet on the ninth gave Hadwin command of the match and Johnson’s hopes effectively sank when he hit two balls into the water on the short par-four 13th.
Rory McIlroy kept himself in the tournament with a 2&1 victory over Jhonattan Vegas, as Brian Harman’s victory over Peter Uhlein left Group 6 wide open.
McIlroy faces Harman today knowing a win would give him a sudden death play-off if Uhlein beats Vegas and direct qualification if Vegas beats Uhlein.
McIlroy, who lost to Uihlein on day one, never trailed in the contest and was three up with three to play, but still had to hole from six feet for par on the 17th to avoid being taken down the last.
McIlroy came into the week on the back of his win in the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday and told Sky Sports: "I could have done with that extra day. You win on a Sunday and usually you're teeing it back up on a Thursday but you have to start on a Wednesday here.
"I did feel a bit flat on Wednesday coming back out here. I don't want to use that as an excuse, Peter played great, but there's sometimes a little bit of a hangover and I was tired.
"This is my sixth week out of seven as well so I'm looking forward to hopefully getting through to the weekend here but putting the clubs away for a couple of days before getting ready for Augusta."
European number one Tommy Fleetwood had earlier bounced back in style from an “awful” opening defeat to keep his hopes of a first WGC title alive.
Fleetwood lost 3&2 to fellow Englishman Ian Poulter on day one in Austin, but it was a completely different story on Thursday as he cruised to a 7&6 victory over American Kevin Chappell, the biggest winning margin of the week so far.
“I walked off the course [yesterday] really disappointed in myself,” Fleetwood told Sky Sports. “Not to take anything away from Ian because he played solid and did what he needed to do, but I putted really poor and felt like I gifted everything to him all day.
“You just sit there for an hour and think that was awful. I knew I had to work on my putting and did some work on it in the afternoon and tried to come out with a much more positive attitude.”
That seemed to do the trick as Fleetwood won the first four holes of the match and lost just one throughout a one-sided contest against Chappell, who had beaten Daniel Berger on Wednesday.
“Kevin wasn’t having a very good time today, he struggled early on and it’s that kind of course,” Fleetwood added. “With the wind swirling like it is and being so strong you can just get caught out so easily.”
The destiny of Group 9 is still in Poulter’s hands after he beat Berger 2&1 to maintain his 100 per cent record, but a three-man play-off is possible if Fleetwood beats Berger and Poulter loses to Chappell today.
“If last year taught me anything it’s that every point counts so there’s no point sitting and wallowing or thinking I’ll just have tomorrow off and not be bothered about winning,” added Fleetwood, who won the 2017 Race to Dubai by 58,821 points from Justin Rose.
“If I can win tomorrow we’ll see what happens.”
Ryder Cup partners Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed will go head-to-head today to decide the winner of Group 4, Spieth beating Li Haotong 4&2 and Reed defeating former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel on the 18th.