McIlroy and McDowell stay on course for weekend duel in the sun
Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell remain on target for an all-Irish quarter-final showdown after strong victories on day one of the Volvo World Match Play Championship in Spain.
McIlroy had a narrow victory over double US Open champion Retief Goosen when he chipped in for birdie at the last to defeat the South African by just one hole.
Moments later, McDowell was shaking hands with reigning British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, after handing Goosen's compatriot a 3&1 defeat.
McIlroy and McDowell were among six players from last year's European Ryder Cup-winning side to taste success. World No 1 Lee Westwood and Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez were the biggest winners, with Westwood hammering Denmark's Anders Hansen 6&5.
Jimenez toasted a similar winning margin over Masters champion Charl Schwartzel with a glass of Rioja.
World No 2 Luke Donald defeated the only American in the event, Ryan Moore (4&3), while Spaniard Alvaro Quiros humbled Paul Casey, a former World Match Play winner, 3&1.
Germany's Martin Kaymer beat YE Yang 2&1, while Ian Poulter and Francesco Molinari played out a tame draw.
McIlroy was 1-up after two holes but 2-down through seven, before back-to-back birdies saw the match again all square.
The encounter remained tantalisingly in the balance until Goosen doubled the 14th hole, before McIlroy went 1-up with a birdie at the next, and he was never subsequently headed.
However, there was an anxious moment at the last when McIlroy found a greenside bunker.
He then played a poor shot, later remarking the sand had not been raked properly. The ball came up short and was perched perilously at the top of the slope, some 18 feet from the flagstick.
Goosen had found the green in three and needed to hole a 15-footer for birdie to have any chance of victory.
However, McIlroy calmly chipped in to deny the double US Open winner and five-time Presidents Cup player.
"I knew it was going to be a tough match against Retief because he's such a solid player and he's never going to go away," said McIlroy.
"Beating an opponent like that in the first round is great for your confidence for the next couple of days.
"So, it's a big scalp for me to have beaten someone of his experience, even though I might be ahead of him on the world rankings."
McDowell was very pleased to bury any lingering demons following last Sunday's Players Championship plunge.
"I wouldn't have liked a week off thinking about the way I played last Sunday, for sure," he said.
"So, to win today was the best tonic for me and now I'm looking forward to the weekend.
"It was just hugely important to win your first game as I would not like to be relying on a result tomorrow morning. I've got a little bit of a cushion now."
McDowell's next match is against Venezuelan sensation Jhonattan Vegas, whereas McIlroy will face Volvo China Open champion Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium.
Halved matches would see both Irish players progress through to the last 16 and knockout stages tomorrow, and if McIlroy and McDowell should win then they would face each other in the afternoon quarter-finals.
"I find it surprising that Rory and I have not come up against each other and sort of had a little chip at each other," said McDowell.
"We've joked and talked about having a duel somewhere, so it looks like if we both do the job tomorrow, we are heading for a Saturday afternoon showdown.
"It would be great to play him but the only problem is that if it does happen, only one of us will go through with the chance to win the final.
"But really I can't be thinking about tackling Rory at this stage, as I've got to get past Jhonattan Vegas and we've seen what form he's been in this year."
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