Friday 19 January 2018

McDowell falls at first hurdle

Graeme McDowell hits his tee shot on the third hole during the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship yesterday
Graeme McDowell hits his tee shot on the third hole during the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship yesterday

William S Callahan

GRAEME McDOWELL was left with a numbing sense of deja vu in Arizona's Sonoran Desert yesterday as he ran into the golfing equivalent of a brick wall, Korea's YE Yang, in the first round of the Accenture Match Play.

Knocked out by Yang in last year's third round, McDowell was beaten 2&1 on the 17th when the 2009 PGA champion holed a six-foot putt for his seventh birdie of a high-class opening match at the Ritz-Carlton Club near Tucson.

It had the makings of a black Wednesday for Ulster as Darren Clarke was blitzed 5&4 by American Nick Watney and Rory McIlroy, plainly at odds with his game, trailed rugged South African George Coetzee through 10 holes.

Yet Coetzee (25), making his WGC debut this week, ceded his advantage after driving into an unplayable lie in the desert at 11. Loose tee shots would cost him dearly at the next two holes, McIlroy easing three ahead as he landed his first birdie at 13 and holed from 40 feet for another at 14.

It should have been straightforward from there but McIlroy hit the proverbial wall. A wayward tee shot from the Ulsterman at 16 kept the match alive.

McIlroy opened the door further with another bogey on 17. Despite recovering from a poor second shot with a superb chip to six feet, he couldn't hole out as Coetzee took the match to the 18th with a par. However, McIlroy kept his cool to win the last and seal a two-up victory.

McIlroy joined fellow seeds Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer in the next round but World No 1 Luke Donald's defence of his title was feeble as he fell to a shockingly ham-fisted 5 and 4 defeat against Ernie Els.

Clarke wasn't much better. Three down after completing his first five holes in four-over and four behind after another bogey at seven, off-colour Clarke (43) managed to win only one hole, the eighth, with an eagle, no less.

Watney's opponent today is Tiger Woods, who was let off the hook by Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. After sinking a series of splendid putts early on, the Spaniard resorted to type late on in an untidy match, missing a couple of makeable putts at 15 and 16.

Woods should have finished off his opponent on 17. Instead, he missed from inside 10 feet and needed a brilliant up-and-down from a greenside bunker at the last to win one-up.

Ryo Ishikawa (19) pulled off an astonishing recovery coming from three down with five to play to finish one up against last Sunday's sudden-death hero at Riviera Bill Haas. The Japanese youngster today faces recent Qatar Masters winner Paul Lawrie, after the rejuvenated Scottish veteran eliminated Justin Rose.

Another teenage sensation, Matteo Manassero (18) beat world No 6 Webb Simpson 3&2, adding the American's scalp to those of Charl Schwartzel and Steve Stricker in his impressive Accenture haul.

McDowell wasn't the only European Ryder Cup hero to bow to a South Korean. Sang-Moon Bae (25), a US Q-School graduate last December, slam-dunked England's Ian Poulter 4&3.

Unlike Poulter, who was two-over when Bae applied the coup de grace with only his second birdie of the day on 15, McDowell played well and was three-under-par when his high-powered confrontation with Yang concluded.

The Ulsterman went behind with an untidy bogey at one and needed three straight birdies just to get back on level terms through four, before sneaking ahead for the only time in the match with a par at five. Yang (40) rebounded with birdies at six and seven and was two-up at the turn after McDowell stumbled to a double-bogey six at nine.

Showing the grit that won him the 2010 US Open, the Ulsterman halved that lead with a sweet birdie two at 12, then pressured Yang with another at 13 -- yet his opponent adroitly holed a six-footer there for a four of his own to retain the lead. Yang simply would not be moved.

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