'Flat' McIlroy can only earn some respectability in defeat to Uihlein
Rory McIlroy mounted a desperate late rally before falling to a shock 2 and 1 defeat to Peter Uihlein on the opening day of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Texas.
Less than 72 hours after blasting a 64 he described as "a perfect round" to win for the first time in 18 months at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the world number seven admitted he was "flat" early on against the 2010 US Amateur champion and left it too late to salvage a half.
"I made him earn it at least, I made the score a little more respectable," said McIlroy, who must beat Venezuela's Jhonattan Vegas today if he's to keep alive his chances of advancing to the knock out stages.
"I just came away a little flat. I didn't really necessarily play badly. He played pretty well. It was a few under through nine and got down early and he didn't make a bogey all day."
He didn't get fired up until he was dormie five and a heavy defeat looked inevitable before he made a 36 footer for a birdie at the 14th and then birdied the 15th and 16th from close range to cut the gap to two holes.
He needed a 16 footer for a two at the 17th to take Uihlein to the last but he missed and the American cleaned up from three feet for a valuable win.
"It was hard to claw my way back," McIlroy said. "It was gusty out there, the conditions were a little tricky. As I said, I made a run at him at the end, but it was a little too late."
Under the round-robin system, the 16 group winners advance to the knockout stages and with Vegas and left-hander Brian Harman getting half a point each last night, McIlroy knows his fate is out of his hands.
"Obviously it's out of my control now," he added. "So I've just got to win my next two matches and hopefully the draw works in my favour."
While he was deadly with the putter at Bay Hill, McIlroy gave himself little chance of recovering from a slow start.
He missed a seven-footer for a half in birdies at the second, bogeyed the par-three fourth and then failed to get up and down from 25 yards for a half in birdies at the driveable fifth.
Uihlein hit a wedge stone dead at the ninth to turn four up before extending his lead to five holes when McIlroy bogeyed the 10th.
The Northern Irish superstar birdied the par-five 12th and the driveable 13th but Uihlein matched him each time to be dormie five.
McIlroy needed to win the next five holes but while he won the 14th, 15th and 16th, there would be no miracle.
"It could have gone two ways," Uihlein said. "Either he was going to come out and blitz it and I was going to be five down early or he was going to come out a hair flat."
McIlroy wasn't the only surprise loser on the first day as world number one and defending champion Dustin Johnson fell 3 and 1 to Austria's Bernd Wiesberger and Phil Mickelson lost 3 and 2 to Charles Howell III.
European number one Tommy Fleetwood fell 3 and 2 to 2010 Accenture Match Play champion Ian Poulter, who needs a quarter-final spot to qualify for the Masters.
Struggling with his putting recently, Poulter said: "Rory turned it around last week. His putting stats were pretty incredible. So again, it comes down to the wand."
Two-time winner Jason Day opened his account with a 4 and 2 win over James Hahn as Jordan Spieth beat Charl Schwartzel 2 and 1.
Meanwhile, Graeme McDowell heads a trio of Irishmen hoping to outgun former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo in the PGA Tour's Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship today.
The 2010 US Open champion is joined in the Dominican Republic for the $3 million opposite-field event by Seamus Power and sponsor's invitee Paul Dunne.
On the Challenge Tour, there's a five-strong Irish challenge at the season-opening Barclays Kenya Open at Karen Country Club in Nairobi
Ballymoney's Michael Hoey (39) is joined former Walker Cup team mates Gavin Moynihan, Cormac Sharvin Gary Hurley and Derry's Ruaidhri McGee.