AUSTIN, TEXAS – If you like match play because it’s a break from the routine of stroke-play tournaments, you had to love Thursday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play because there was very little normal about it thanks to rugged, windy conditions.
Here’s a look at what happened and what could happen:
Best Friday match: It has to be Sergio García against Jon Rahm in a duel between Spaniards. It’s what they wanted and what pretty much everyone else who saw them in the same pod wanted.
“That’s what I wanted at the beginning of the week for both of us on Friday to play to get through so at least one Spaniard gets through,” García said.
The unbeaten: Thirteen players have won both matches to this point: Rahm, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Tyrrell Hatton, Brooks Koepka, K.T. Kim, Kevin Na, Charl Schwartzel, Phil Mickelson, Pat Perez, William McGirt, Paul Casey and Soren Kjeldsen.
So how’s your bracket look?
The weather factor: Even by Texas standards, it was windy Thursday at Austin Country Club, with 30 mph gusts putting whitecaps on Lake Austin and creating some funny-looking shots, particularly on the back nine around the water.
Austin Country Club’s greens are funky in spots and firm conditions exacerbated by the wind had players shaking their heads. It was borderline freaky at times with shots ricocheting around like in a Monday morning business outing.
“Loved it,” Phil Mickelson said and he was being serious.
The wind is expected to subside Friday but potentially heavy thunderstorms are forecast to roll through the area in the morning, prompting tee times to be moved up two hours.
Ripple effect: When Gary Woodland withdrew Thursday due to a family matter, it ultimately prevented Rory McIlroy from having a chance to advance to the round of 16.
That’s because Kjeldsen, who beat McIlroy on Wednesday, went to 2-0 with his Thursday win over Emiliano Grillo. With a Friday match against Woodland that was conceded, Kjeldsen advances with a 3-0 record while McIlroy can be no better than 2-1 if he beats Grillo.
And, if you’re wondering, Patrick Reed (in a different pod) can’t advance to the round of 16 but that doesn’t really change his Ryder Cup rep.
So much for seeding: The lowest-seeded player in the field – Kim – is 2-0.
The hot hand: Koepka has needed only 26 holes to win his first two matches. He has made 12 birdies on those 26 holes, putting into action the benefits of a grinding weekend of work after missing the cut at Bay Hill.