McIlroy poised for last 16, Watson's Match Play defence ends

In-form Rory McIlroy will advance to the next round if he avoids defeat to Matt Fitzpatrick in Group 4 on Friday.

Rory McIlroy– the 2015 champion – stayed perfect at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin thanks to Thursday's 3 and 2 win over South African Justin Harding.   -  Getty Images

Former world number one Rory McIlroy made it two wins from two at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play as he closed in on the last 16, though defending champion Bubba Watson was eliminated.

McIlroy – the 2015 champion – stayed perfect in Austin thanks to Thursday's 3 and 2 win over South African Justin Harding. After opening his campaign by beating Luke List, Players Championship winner and Northern Irish star McIlroy will advance if he avoids defeat to Matt Fitzpatrick in Group 4 on Friday.

"I think one of the big things over the last couple of days is I've really been happy with how I've responded," he told the Golf Channel.

"If Justin hits a great shot, I hit one in straight after him. He holes a good putt, I hole a good putt.

"I feel like over the last couple of days whether it was the match against Luke List or today, I played the shot when I needed to, I held the putt when I needed to for the most part.

"I finished off the match with two birdies yesterday and I finished off the match here with two birdies again. Once I get myself into that position where I sort of sense a little bit of blood, I'm taking my opportunities."

McIlroy was seeded to meet Tiger Woods in the last 16 at Austin Country Club, however the 14-time major champion is on the brink of exiting the tournament.

Three-time Match Play winner Woods – making his first appearance in the round-robin format rather than the previous single-elimination set-up – lost 2 and 1 to Brandt Snedeker. Woods hit a left-handed shot from under a tree and saved par but it was a difficult day for the American, who now needs to beat Patrick Cantlay and hope Snedeker loses to Aaron Wise in Group 13 as only the top player advances from each pool.

Watson, meanwhile, failed to progress to the weekend after going down 2 and 1 to Billy Horschel. Following his opening loss to Kevin Na, Watson tasted back-to-back defeats as the defending champion of the tournament failed to advance for the third consecutive year.

Brooks Koepka and Jason Day also bowed out, while world number one Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth and Jon Rahm are in precarious positions.

American Jordan Spieth'S form in Austin is a boost with the Masters a fortnight away. But the three-time major champion said improvement, not results, was his focus.   -  Getty Images

 

Spieth who has struggled so far in 2019, boosted his chances in Austin with a 3 and 2 victory over Kevin Na. Spieth and Billy Horschel are equal top of Group 15 ahead of facing Bubba Watson and Na respectively on Friday.

In six tournaments this year, Spieth has missed two cuts and failed to finish in the top 30, and his form in Austin is a boost with the Masters a fortnight away. But the three-time major champion said improvement, not results, was his focus.

"I'm just trying to each day feel like I progressed a little more in what I'm working on," Spieth told a news conference.

"And whatever happens this week as far as win or lose the match, whatever happens next week score-wise, if I continue to do that I'll be in the best position day in and day out to succeed.

"So I'm not looking for certainly anything results-wise. It's more just trying to play better golf.

"And [on Friday], I mean, I could shoot eight under in my match, win the match and make a par on the first [play-off] hole and I don't advance if Billy wins and birdies. I've got to win and prepare to have to go back out."

Spieth won the Masters in 2015 and was runner-up in 2014 and 2016, while finishing third last year, with the tournament at Augusta starting on April 11.

 

Results

 

Group 1: Branden Grace (2-0-0) beat Dustin Johnson (1-1-0) 1up, Hideki Matsuyama (0-1-1) and Chez Reavie (0-1-1) halved their match
Group 2: Justin Rose (1-0-1) and Eddie Pepperell (0-1-1) halved their match, Gary Woodland (2-0-0) beat Emiliano Grillo (0-2-0) 1up
Group 3: Li Haotong (2-0-0) beat Brooks Koepka (0-1-1) 1up, Alex Noren (1-1-0) beat Tom Lewis (0-1-1) 4 and 2
Group 4: Rory McIlroy (2-0-0) beat Justin Harding (1-1-0) 3 and 2, Luke List (1-1-0) beat Matt Fitzpatrick (0-2-0) 2 and 1
Group 5: Justin Thomas (1-1-0) beat Matt Wallace (1-1-0) 3 and 1, Keegan Bradley (0-1-1) and Lucas Bjerregaard (1-0-1) halved their match
Group 6: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (1-1-0) beat Bryson DeChambeau (1-1-0) 2 and 1, Marc Leishman (2-0-0) beat Russell Knox (0-2-0) 2up
Group 7: Francesco Molinari (2-0-0) beat Thorbjorn Olesen (1-1-0) 4 and 3, Webb Simpson (0-1-1) and Satoshi Kodaira (0-1-1) halved their match
Group 8: J.B. Holmes (1-1-0) beat Jon Rahm (1-1-0) 2 and 1, Matt Kuchar (2-0-0) beat Kim Si-woo (0-2-0) 6 and 4
Group 9: Xander Schauffele (1-0-1) and Tyrrell Hatton (1-0-1) halved their match, Rafa Cabrera Bello (0-1-1) and Lee Westwood (0-1-1) halved their match
Group 10: Paul Casey (1-0-1) and Charles Howell III (1-0-1) halved their match, Abraham Ancer (1-1-0) beat Cameron Smith (0-2-0) 3 and 2
Group 11: Tommy Fleetwood (1-0-1) and Kyle Stanley (1-0-1) halved their match, Louis Oosthuizen (1-1-0) beat Byeong Hun An (0-2-0) 1up
Group 12: Henrik Stenson (2-0-0) beat Jason Day (0-2-0) 4 and 3, Jim Furyk (2-0-0) beat Phil Mickelson (0-2-0) 1up
Group 13: Brandt Snedeker (1-0-1) beat Tiger Woods (1-1-0) 2 and 1, Patrick Cantlay (1-0-1) beat Aaron Wise (0-2-0) 4 and 2
Group 14: Kevin Kisner (1-1-0) beat Tony Finau (1-1-0) 2up, Keith Mitchell (1-1-0) beat Ian Poulter (1-1-0) 1up
Group 15: Billy Horschel (1-0-1) beat Bubba Watson (0-2-0) 2 and 1, Jordan Spieth (1-0-1) beat Kevin Na (1-1-0) 3 and 2
Group 16: Patrick Reed (0-1-1) and Shane Lowry (0-1-1) halved their match, Sergio Garcia (2-0-0) beat Andrew Putnam (1-1-0) 5 and 4