Saturday 29 April 2017

McIlroy faces early exit after defeat to Kjeldsen

Rory McIlroy tees off at yesterday’s opening round of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy tees off at yesterday’s opening round of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

James Corrigan

Whatever the perception, golf never has been wholly to do with power and status, a fact to which Rory McIlroy would testify after the first day of the WGC-Dell Match Play here at Austin Country Club.

As the world No 2, McIlroy was expected to have accounted for Soren Kjeldsen, the world No 68, with some ease, particularly as the Dane had lost his previous five matches in three prior appearances in this World Golf Championship event.

And then there was the ridiculous discrepancy in length. "There were some holes out there when Rory was driving it 100 yards or so past me," Kjeldsen said.

Yet matchplay, that glorious arena of volatility, is rarely so simple and doggedness, together with some brilliant approach play, very often gets the job done against the boomers. Kjeldsen, the diminutive 41-year-old, happens to possess both tenacity and accuracy in abundance and overcame a seemingly inexorable McIlroy fightback to prevail 2&1.

"Alistair [Matheson], my caddie, told me last night to shoot five-under and see if that's enough and not to worry about whatever Rory's doing," Kjeldsen said. "Well, I shot six-under. I've had an awful record in this event and, in the car this morning, I was really determined to change that. Yeah, I did a good job of not watching Rory, which you really don't want to be doing if you're playing against him as he is pretty spectacular. I think I saw only about half of his shots."

Stunned

However, he could not help but see McIlroy's drive on the par-five 12th. Kjeldsen, whose average drive on the European Tour is 272 yards, was stunned to discover that his own tee-shot travelled 332 yards - "wow, did it hit a sprinkler head?" he asked - but was still resigned to finishing almost 80 yards behind his opponent. The 27-year-old McIlroy launched it 410 yards, and even though it was downhill and down breeze, it was still staggering. "I wish I could do that," Kjeldsen said.

McIlroy won that 582-yarder with a birdie four, having been two down at the turn, and when he also birdied the 13th, he took a one-hole lead. "I thought I had him at that stage," McIlroy said. "But Soren put three in birdies in four holes from the 14th and you can't do anything about that."

Well, by his own admission, McIlroy and his caddy, JP Fitzgerald, could have judged the par-five 16th rather better than they did. "I hit the wrong club for my second," McIlroy said. "I should have hit three-wood but I hit five-wood and came up short. That was the real turning point."

McIlroy is just relieved that they changed the format of this championship two years ago, from straight knockout to group stages; otherwise he would be heading to the Masters in two weeks on the back of a first-round exit.

Instead, he lives to fight another day, although he must avoid defeat against the American Gary Woodland today if his match tomorrow against the Argentine Emiliano Grillo is not to be an irrelevance.

Shane Lowry missed a glorious chance at victory over Sergio Garcia when he pushed a six-foot putt to the right of the final hole to lose the last in a match that finished all square.

The Spaniard was two up through five, however, Lowry fought back to be two up through 11 before a bogey on the next halved his advantage.

Lowry was almost dormy after his birdie on 16, however, Garcia responded with a superb effort of his own and, after they halved the next, Lowry took a one up lead to the last.

However, he pulled his drive into heavy rough but, after Garcia missed his putt for birdie, the Offaly man had a six footer to halve the hole and win the match, however, he missed badly. He plays Jon Rahm today.

Putting wins and losses into perspective was Jason Day who abruptly pulled out of his opening match to be with his mother, who has been diagnosed with lung cancer and is due to have surgery.

"Hard to comprehend being on the golf course right now, with what she's going through," said a tearful Day, who struggled to maintain his composure.

Day, who was three down to Pat Perez through six when he conceded, did not say how long he would be away or whether he would be at the Masters.

"As of now, I am going to be back with my mom," said Day, who had tears streaming down his face. "It's been a very, very hard time for me to be even thinking about playing golf."

Day, 29, said his mother, Adenil "Dening" Day, was given 12 months to live at the start of the year after being diagnosed in Australia. She is in the United States for treatment, and the golfer said the prognosis appears to be better.

Day lost his father, Alvyn, to cancer when he was just 12 years old. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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