Séamus Power had a lot of things on his mind heading into his debut at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship in Austin, Texas. For one, there was the subplot of remaining inside the world's top-50 at tournament's end to earn an invitation into the upcoming US Masters; then, there was the challenge of taking on Sungjae Im, the world's 26th-ranked player and with a reputation for consistency.
As it happened, a defining moment of their match showcased how Power – 463rd this time last year but nowadays riding high at 48th in the world rankings – has moved upwards in every way. On the par-three 11th, at which point Power was one-up, Im’s tee shot was caught up in the wind and came up some 20 yards short of the green, his ball plunging into a watery grave in the lake fronting the putting surface.
When it was Power’s turn to play, the wind – gusting – had him at times turning around for shelter and second-guessing how to play the hole.
Ultimately, Power’s shot execution was exemplary, his tee shot safely finding the putting green and, given Im’s travails, there would be no need to even putt as the Waterford man went two-up to kickstart a hot streak that also saw him win the 12th, 13th and 14th – all in birdies – to close out the match and claim a brilliant 5 and 4 win over the South Korean.
“It’s nice to get a point on the board. It’s my first time playing here, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but one for one, so it’s a good start,” said Power.
It was an important win for Power, not only in notching up a winning point in Group 4, with the winner of the round-robin progressing onwards in the quest for the near €2 million payday and a WGC title, but also in advancing his prospects of that maiden visit to Augusta National. A first or second place finish in his group would garner sufficient world ranking points to achieve that aim.
The utter appeal of matchplay is that it is so different from strokeplay, each man-to-man battle allowing for brilliant shotmaking and luck in equal measures. And, on the first day’s play, there were a number of tales of the unexpected and of misfortune.
In that category, Paul Casey’s was a story of woe. The Englishman – with a noted matchplay record – was forced to concede his match to Canadian Corey Conners after only two holes when Casey’s back went into spasm and he was unable to continue.
“The team in the physio truck said my glutes were switched off and my back spasmed because of it. I couldn’t even get a tee in the ground when I conceded the match,” said Casey.
Defending champion Billy Horschel had come into the championship with a question mark over his fitness but brought a strong game into the fray and was a 3 and 2 winner over Min Woo Lee.
“I think I just don’t ever give up, I just, I hate losing,” said Horschel of his mindset, adding: “ I mean I honestly hate to lose. I hate not performing to the level that I want. So it fires me up to play better and I just, I don’t give a shot away, I try not to. I battle until the end. And I’ve got a secret weapon in a putter that I make a lot of putts inside 10 feet which saves me a lot of times.
Shane Lowry trailed Harold Varner III by four holes through 11 but kept the match going with birdies on the two par-fives on the back nine before the American sealed the deal on the 17th with a birdie two for a 2up victory
First day results (US unless stated)
Jordan Spieth bt Keegan Bradley 2up
Adam Scott (Aus) bt Justin Rose (Eng) 2up
Justin Thomas lost to Luke List 3&2
Kevin Kisner bt Marc Leishman (Aus) 4&3
Joaquin Niemann (Chi) lost to Maverick McNealy 8&6
Kevin Na bt Russell Henley 1up
Viktor Hovland (Nor) bt Sepp Straka (Aut) 1up
Will Zalatoris bt Cameron Tringale 5&4
Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa) lost to Alexander Noren (Swe) 1up
Paul Casey (Eng) lost to Corey Conners (Can) conceded
Xander Schauffele bt Takumi Kanaya (Jpn) 3&2
Tony Finau lost to Lucas Herbert (Aus) 4&3
Abraham Ancer (Mex) bt Bubba Watson 3&1
Webb Simpson bt Brian Harman 1up
Collin Morikawa bt Robert MacIntyre (Sco) 2&1
Jason Kokrak lost to Sergio Garcia (Esp) 4&3
Billy Horschel bt Min-Woo Lee (Aus) 3&2
Thomas Pieters (Bel) bt Tom Hoge 2&1
Scottie Scheffler bt Ian Poulter 2&1
Matt Fitzpatrick (Eng) bt Tommy Fleetwood (Eng) 1up
Tyrrell Hatton (Eng) bt Christiaan Bezuidenhout 3&2
Daniel Berger lost to Si Woo Kim (Kor) 2up
Patrick Cantlay halved with Keith Mitchell
Sungjae Im (Kor) lost to Séamus Power (Ire) 5&4
Bryson DeChambeau tied with Richard Bland (Eng)
Talor Gooch bt Lee Westwood (Eng) 3&2
Dustin Johnson bt Mackenzie Hughes (Can) 3&2
Max Homa bt Matthew Wolff 3&1
Brooks Koepka bt Erik van Rooyen (Rsa) 3&2
Shane Lowry (Ire) lost to Harold Varner III 2&1
Jon Rahm (Esp) bt Sebastián Muñoz (Col) 4&2
Patrick Reed lost to Cameron Young 1up