AUSTIN, Texas — Rory McIlroy had each motive to like the lengthy ball Thursday.
Taken to the 18th gap within the WGC-Dell Applied sciences Match Play, McIlroy unleashed the shot of the match. He smashed a drive on the 375-yard closing gap so magnificently that it pitched on the inexperienced and rolled out to simply inside 4 ft.
That each one however clinched his 2-up victory over Denny McCarthy as McIlroy led a parade of high seeds into the ultimate spherical of group play at Austin Nation Membership.
“It was good,” McIlroy mentioned with a smile, which was like saying Michelangelo did an excellent job on the Sistine Chapel.
One of many best drives you’ll EVER see 🤯@McIlroyRory drives the ball to three FEET on the 375-yard par-4 18th with a 349-yard carry to the inexperienced! pic.twitter.com/HzhMBtyKkr
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 23, 2023
He capped a rally from 3 down via six holes. McIlroy did not take his first lead within the match till one other energy present — a giant drive into the wind on the par-5 sixteenth to arrange a two-putt birdie from 18 ft.
Defending champion Scottie Scheffler, who needed to make a 12-footer on the final gap to win his first match, had seven birdies in a nine-hole stretch in the midst of his match in opposition to Alex Noren for a 5-and-4 victory.
Patrick Cantlay (4), Max Homa (5) and Xander Schauffele (6) additionally received their matches as 4 of the highest six seeds took a 2-0 file into Friday in a bid to win their group and advance to the knockout stage on the weekend.
The exception was Jon Rahm, who recovered from his opening spherical loss by driving the inexperienced on the par-4 fifth on his solution to a 4-and-3 victory over Keith Mitchell. Which means Rahm profitable his group is in his palms, as Rickie Fowler misplaced his match.
It capped one other blustery day of momentum shifts and unsure outcomes, typical of this format that’s being performed for the final time.
Matt Kuchar was on the cusp of tying Tiger Woods’ match file of 36 wins, however then he missed a 5-foot birdie putt on the final gap and needed to accept a halve with Chris Kirk.
Cameron Younger by no means led in his match in opposition to Corey Conners — they halved 14 of the primary 15 holes — till the rising American star made eagle on the par-5 sixteenth, holed a 12-foot birdie on the seventeenth to take his first lead after which made a wild scramble for par to win.
“Clearly it is windy and tough right this moment however there’s sufficient holes you must nonetheless make 4, 5 or 6 birdies. It is simply holding myself affected person realizing that these are most likely coming,” Younger mentioned. “I might have preferred them to be a bit bit earlier, however I will take them proper the place they have been.”
The McIlroy drive was the topper, although.
“I used to be imagining the driving force was going to land into the upslope and type of keep 10, 20 yards brief,” McIlroy mentioned. “I did not think about I might fly it on the inexperienced.”
As for the place it charges, McIlroy laughed.
“I used to be 1 up and there is definitely loads of different methods to make birdie on that gap with out having to try this,” he mentioned. “However yeah, it was an amazing swing and it was nice time to do it.”
It got here throughout every week by which McIlroy mentioned to “No Laying Up” that he favored the USGA and R&A proposal to roll again the gap golf balls journey for elite competitors. The governing our bodies selected to not tackle the driving force.
“I believe you are gonna see folks with extra well-rounded video games succeed simpler than what the sport has grow to be, which is a bit bomb-and-gouge over these previous few years,” he mentioned.
This was extra bomb-and-putt, and it was a magnificence.
The shot was much like Robert MacIntyre driving the 18th inexperienced at Austin Nation Membership two years in the past when he wanted to win the ultimate gap to win his group, and it knocked out top-seeded Dustin Johnson.
McIlroy’s work will not be carried out, and not one of the high seeds will be assured to advancing even with out having misplaced a match.
Two gamers can converse from expertise. Cantlay two years in the past was 2-0 when he misplaced on the third day after which confronted a sudden-death playoff in opposition to Brian Harman — whom he had overwhelmed on the primary day — and misplaced with a three-putt on the second further gap.
Lucas Herbert was in the identical place final 12 months when he misplaced to Takumi Kanaya after which confronted him in a playoff, four-putting the primary inexperienced.
That is no time to get comfy.
“Consolation is the satan in golf,” Herbert mentioned. “As a lot as it’s a nice place to be 2-0, I bought work to do tomorrow.”
Twenty gamers face the worst day as a result of they’ve been eradicated, a gaggle that features Will Zalatoris, the No. 7 seed, and eighth-seeded Viktor Hovland.
Jordan Spieth will want some assist. A crowd favourite in Austin, the place he performed for the Longhorns for 3 semesters, Spieth was 1 up over PGA Tour rookie Taylor Montgomery when he drove into the water and misplaced the thirteenth, went lengthy of the 14th inexperienced and missed a brief par putt and Montgomery made a 10-foot birdie on the fifteenth to grab management.
Montgomery received on the seventeenth gap to go 2-0. Spieth would want to beat Shane Lowry and have Mackenzie Hughes beat Montgomery to have an opportunity.
Montgomery by no means fared properly in match play when he was at UNLV, although he did simply wonderful in loads of cash video games at Shadow Creek with a couple of excessive rollers.
With aspect bets, he recalled having a couple of putts value $10,000 or $15,000. He did not miss.
“That was an excellent factor, too, as a result of that was every thing in my checking account,” he mentioned.
As for Keegan Bradley, he had a 6-and-5 win which was noteworthy for a few causes. It was his first win in Match Play since 2012 — what adopted have been 9 losses and 7 halves — and he solely must win Friday to win his group.
Subsequent up is McIlroy, who beat Bradley within the Ryder Cup at Medinah in 2012 when Europe pulled off a shocking comeback. McIlroy practically missed his tee time that day as a result of he mentioned he forgot Chicago was within the Central time zone. So is Austin.
“Pay attention, I do know I bought a extremely powerful match. It is Rory McIlroy,” Bradley mentioned. “However I am enjoying properly, too, so I’ll go on the market and attempt to win the match.”