Rory McIlroy explains two key club changes ahead of Masters as he starts well in Match Play
Rory McIlroy took control of his group with a convincing win on the opening day of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, but Shane Lowry and Seamus Power have their work cut out after painful defeats in Austin.
On a day when Lowry lost 2&1 to Taylor Montgomery and Power, two up with five to play, saw Adam Scott knock in putts at the 14th (9ft), 16th (5ft) and 18th (26ft) to snatch a one-up win, number three seed McIlroy made six birdies in a 3&1 win over Scott Stallings.
McIlroy, who gave a new putter and driver set-up the thumbs up as the Masters approaches, tops Group 3 after his 29th win at the event moved him to fourth in the all-time list match winners behind Tiger Woods (36 wins), Matt Kuchar (35) and Ian Poulter (32).
The Holywood star now faces Denny McCarthy, who was four down with five to play but played them in four-under to halve his match with Keegan Bradley.
"I think just has to do with my play," McIlroy said of his reasons for changing two key clubs a fortnight before the Masters. "It's hard because you look at strokes gained off the tee, and you would think that I'm driving the ball well or I have been driving the ball well.
"Then you look at my driving accuracy, and it's down around 50pc, which is quite low for me. Strokes gained, I'm hitting the ball a long way, so strokes gained over - maybe overvalues length sometimes depending on the course.
"So, yeah, I knew I just needed to change it up a bit going back to a driver length that I'm a little more comfortable with. But the thing is, going to a 44-inch driver with the previous shaft I was using was too stiff, and I couldn't spin it.
"I needed to go to a slightly softer shaft and I can hit more shots with it and feel a bit more comfortable sort of playability-wise.
"So it was good to see. It was good to put it in play today and have to perform pretty well. Drove it well, especially on the back nine.
"Obviously, this part of the season, you've got one eye on what you're doing now and one eye on Augusta. It's trying to do both."
As for the putter, he was pleased to hole some putts when required.
"There was a couple of putts on the back nine there that I was actually glad that I had to hole," he said. "It was good practice and obviously at the same time I had to win the match as well, but it was good. It was a good first outing for both those clubs, and they performed pretty well."
The top-16 seeded players won 11 and lost five matches on day one of group play. There were several surprises with Rickie Fowler coming back from two-down to beat out-of-sorts number two seed Jon Rahm 2&1 as JJ Spaun beat US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick 5&3 while Ben Griffin beat Tyrrell Hatton 3&1.
Current World No 1 Scottie Scheffler opened with a 1-up victory over Davis Riley while Kuchar made history with a 3&1 win over Viktor Hovland. It was his 35th match victory at the Dell Technologies Match Play, which leaves second only to Woods (36) for wins in the event.
As for Lowry and Power, they suffered defeats in matches they might have won had they been a little less untidy.
Lowry won the second with a birdie, but world number 57 Montgomery then birdied the third, fifth, sixth and seventh to find himself 2 up.
The remaining 10 holes were halved, with Lowry left to rue missed chances for wins at the 10th, 14th and 16th, where Montgomery scraped a half in par fives after being forced to chip out after a bad drive.
Lowry faces Mackenzie Hughes and he desperately needs a win to keep his hopes alive after Jordan Spieth holed out from 86' 8" on the 15th hole to secure the 4&3 victory over the Canadian.
Power was also left with regrets as he was pipped at the post by former Masters champion Scott.
The 16 group winners will progress to the knockout stages on Saturday.