WASHINGTON — Rory McIlroy remained unbeaten, Tiger Woods suffered a critical loss and defending champion Bubba Watson and two-time winner Jason Day were eliminated Thursday at the WGC-Match Play Championship.
When I sense a little bit of blood, I’m taking my opportunities
The 64-player showdown featuring the world ranking leaders at Austin (Texas) Country Club starts with three days of group play to determine 16 berths in weekend knockout matches to decide a champion.
Fourth seed McIlroy defeated South Africa’s 47th-seeded Justin Harding 3&2, eagles at the par-5 12th and 16th and a birdie at the par-4 15th tipping a squared match his way to give him a 2-0 record and group lead.
“One of the big things over the last couple of days is I’ve been happy with how I’ve responded. I played the shot when I needed to — I holed the putt when I needed to.
“When I sense a little bit of blood, I’m taking my opportunities. Whenever I have to step up and hit a shot on top of a guy, I’ve been able to do that really well.”
McIlroy, who has never trailed in two days, needs only a draw with English 32nd seed Matthew Fitzpatrick on Friday to advance.
Brandt Snedeker never trailed in beating 14-time major champion Woods 2&1 to share the lead in an all-American group with Patrick Cantlay, who beat Aaron Wise 4&2.
For any chance to reach the weekend in his first Match Play start since 2013, three-time winner Woods must beat Cantlay on Friday and have Wise defeat or draw Snedeker.
“We both made a couple of mistakes out there but he made a few less mistakes than I did,” Woods said. “All I can do is hopefully get a point tomorrow and see if that’s good enough.”
Woods made an incredible third shot at the 10th hole on his knees, knocking the ball from underneath a huge bush some 32 feet to just four feet from the cup and halved the hole.
“My own kids were probably rooting for him,” Snedeker admitted.
Snedeker sank a nine-foot birdie putt at the par-5 17th for a 2-up lead and halved 17 to seal the victory.
“It was a lot of fun,” Snedeker said. “Neither one of us made a lot of putts. It came down to me making a good putt on 16 and that gave me the little bump I needed to win.”
England’s second-seeded Justin Rose was 3-down with four holes remaining but charged back with long birdie putts to halve with compatriot Eddie Pepperell on a day when 17 of 32 matches went to the 18th hole.