Sport Golf

Tuesday 19 March 2019

Rory McIlroy still in contention at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play but Dustin Johnson crashes out

Rory McIlroy plays his shot from the second tee
Rory McIlroy plays his shot from the second tee

Phil Casey

World number one and defending champion Dustin Johnson crashed out of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play with a game to spare as Rory McIlroy avoided suffering the same fate.

Johnson never trailed at any point in his seven matches last year as he became the first player to win all four World Golf Championship titles.

But the 33-year-old lost to Austria's Bernd Wiesberger on the opening day at Austin Country Club and was again out of sorts in a 4&3 defeat to Canada's Adam Hadwin on Thursday which guaranteed he cannot qualify for the knockout stages.

An eagle on the sixth and a birdie from 35 feet on the ninth gave Hadwin command of the match and Johnson's hopes effectively sank when he hit two balls into the water on the short par-four 13th.

McIlroy, who lost to Peter Uihlein on day one, never trailed against Jhonattan Vegas and was three up with three to play, but still had to hole from six feet for par on the 17th to seal a 2&1 victory.

The 2015 champion could win his group by beating Brian Harman on Friday, although he would face a play-off with Uihlein if the American beats the already-eliminated Vegas.

McIlroy came into the week on the back of his win in the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday and told Sky Sports: "I could have done with that extra day. You win on a Sunday and usually you're teeing it back up on a Thursday but you have to start on a Wednesday here.

"I did feel a bit flat on Wednesday coming back out here. I don't want to use that as an excuse, Peter played great, but there's sometimes a little bit of a hangover and I was tired.

"This is my sixth week out of seven as well so I'm looking forward to hopefully getting through to the weekend here but putting the clubs away for a couple of days before getting ready for Augusta."

European number one Tommy Fleetwood had earlier bounced back in style from an "awful" opening defeat to keep his hopes of a first WGC title alive.

Fleetwood lost 3&2 to fellow Englishman Ian Poulter on day one, but it was a completely different story on Thursday as he cruised to a 7&6 victory over American Kevin Chappell, the biggest winning margin of the week so far.

"I walked off the course (yesterday) really disappointed in myself," Fleetwood told Sky Sports. "Not to take anything away from Ian because he played solid and did what he needed to do, but I putted really poor and felt like I gifted everything to him all day.

"You just sit there for an hour and think that was awful. I knew I had to work on my putting and did some work on it in the afternoon and tried to come out with a much more positive attitude."

The destiny of Group 9 is still in Poulter's hands after he beat Daniel Berger 2&1 to maintain his 100 per cent record, but a three-man play-off is possible if Fleetwood beats Berger and Poulter loses to Chappell on Friday.

Ryder Cup partners Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed will go head-to-head on Friday to decide the winner of Group 4, Spieth beating Li Haotong 4&2 and Reed defeating former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel on the 18th.

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