You don’t always need an A-game, sometimes it is perseverance – and a confident strut – that will get the job done. And Rory McIlroy, if not exactly firing on all cylinders, made it two wins from two matches in his defence of the WGC-Dell Matchplay championship with a 3 and 1 victory over American Smylie Kaufman in the second day of group play.
As McIlroy marched on in pursuit of back-to-back wins in the championship, with a final group match against Kevin Na set to decide who progresses, there was only disappointment for Shane Lowry, who went from a position of strength in his match with Australian Marcus Fraser, three up at the turn, to collapse on the back nine and end up with only a halved match that ended any chance of progression into the knockout phase.
"Is there any point me coming down?" Lowry enquired forlornly to his caddie Dermot Byrne after hitting his tee-shot on the Par 3 17th into the hazard.
There wasn’t, the ball was never found, and despite Byrne’s best efforts, the ball was never found and that poor tee shot in effect – leading to a bogey on that hole for the second day in a row – ended Lowry’s hopes in the championship a day early. His final group match against Zach Johnson will be purely a matter of pride.
Lowry had started like a train – a birdie-birdie start giving him a two hole lead – and he turned three up and seemingly in total control only to lose the 10th and 11th to birdies and the match was back to all-square after Fraser holed from off the green on the 14th.
For McIlroy, there was again a doggedness about how he went about his business in his pursuit of defending the title. Just as his opening group match with
swung his way late on, he benefitted from the travails of his opponent, Kaufman, who hit one water ball after another on the homeward run.
McIlroy was one up through the turn but lost the 10th and 11th in what appeared to be a momentum- changer to go one down. He didn’t need to produce any heroics of his own, however, to regain the initiative as Kaufman was twice in the water on the 13th and again found water on the 14th for McIlroy to go all-square and then move one up.
Kaufman’s woes were evident again on the 17th, where a pulled tee shot into the same territory as Lowry ahead of him had found resulted in a concession of the hole and the match to McIlroy. The Northern Irishman will complete his group stage against Kevin Na in a winner-takes-all conclusion to see who advances to the last 16.
“It was nice not to go down the last but then it was a little scary at the start of the match, but I’m happy Smylie did concede there at 17 and I move,” said McIlroy, adding: “I certainly feel now after these two days that the longer the match goes on the better my chances are . . . the pleasing thing over the last couple of days is that when I needed to play some of my best golf, I have been able to do that.”
McIlroy made it two wins from two, just as US Ryder Cupper Patrick Reed did too with a comprehensive 4 and 3 win over England's Matthew Fitzpatrick to set up a showdown with in-form Phil Mickelson, while world number one Jordan Spieth also made it two wins from two with a 5 and 4 win over Victor Dubuisson.
Graeme McDowell’s involvement came to an early end, as he halved his match with England’s Paul Casey. Jason Day, who suffered a back injury in defeating McDowell on Wednesday, received intensive physiotherapy to enable him to play and confirmed his wellbeing with a 5 and 3 win over Thonghai Jaidee that has the Australian set to move on to the knockout phase.