Long shot McGirt fin­ishes group sweep

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Kevin Lyt­tle and Kirk Bohls klyt­tle@states­man.com kbohls@states­man.com

If you had scanned the 64-golfer bracket for the WGCDell Tech­nolo­gies Match Play event, Wil­liam McGirt was not an en­trant who stood out as a su­per sleeper. Af­ter three pre­lim­i­nary-round matches, though, the 37-year-old from Lum­ber­ton, N.C., has said good night to his four-man group, post­ing an un­ex­pected sweep.

McGirt, the 48th seed in this tour­na­ment, brushed aside No. 15 Bran­den Grace and No. 19 Brant Snedeker while ad­vanc­ing to Satur­day’s round of 16.

“I’ve al­ways been one that’s had to work for ev­ery­thing,” said McGirt, whose lone PGA Tour win was the 2016 Memo­rial. “I’m not the most tal­ented guy out here. I make up for it with hard work. I’ve put in a lot of time the last few years and just stick to my game.

“If I were play­ing Rory (McIl­roy) to­mor­row, I’m not go­ing to stand up and swing any harder. I’m not go­ing to sniff hit­ting it where he’s hit­ting it. I’ve got to beat him with pre­ci­sion in­stead of power.”

McGirt doesn’t have to deal with McIl­roy. He’ll be fac­ing a fel­low long shot, No. 52 Soren Kjeld­sen, who posted a 3-0 mark to win McIl­roy’s group, par­tially ben­e­fit­ing from Gary Wood­land’s with­drawal.

Break­through: Af­ter go­ing 0-7 in Dell Match Play com­pe­ti­tion, young Brit Chris Wood fi­nally won a match. He knocked off Kevin Na 2 and 1 Fri­day for his first vic­tory of the week.

“Last year, I played re­ally nicely for three games and lost ev­ery one,” Wood said. “I’ve been strug­gling this week.”

Wood’s ex­cused be­cause he’s had a dis­trac­tion or two of late. His wife just had a baby a month ago.

“I’ve been chang­ing more nap­pies than hit­ting balls,” he said.

Off to Au­gusta: Danny Wil­lett will have some ex­tra time to pre­pare for a de­fense of his Masters ti­tle.

The English­man beat Rus­sell Knox 4 and 2 Fri­day, but that was his lone vic­tory in pool play this week, and that sends him pack­ing.

“But there are pos­i­tives we’re tak­ing from it,” Wil­lett said. “We’ve got a week off now to work on the lit­tle things we need to get ready for, driv­ing be­ing one of the main things. We haven’t driven the ball well for a cou­ple of months now.”

Wil­lett doesn’t mind head­ing into Au­gusta un­der the radar, as much as any cham­pion can.

“It’s go­ing to be awe­some,” he said. “If you take it as any­thing else, as added pres­sure, I don’t. I think me play­ing poorly over the last few months has ac­tu­ally helped in the fact that no­body is re­ally look­ing at what we’re do­ing.

“The guys at the top of the world rank­ings are play­ing some good golf. And un­der­stand­ably we’ve played some poor golf.”

Brighter Day: In a text mes­sage de­liv­ered by his agent Fri­day, Ja­son Day said his mother’s surgery to re­move a can­cer­ous mass from her lung went well. She was rest­ing com­fort­ably and doc­tors were op­ti­mistic about her re­cov­ery, Day wrote.

Day, the de­fend­ing Dell Match Play cham­pion, pulled out of the event af­ter six holes Wed­nes­day to be with his mother, Den­ing Day, in Colum­bus, Ohio. His fa­ther, Alvin, died of stom­ach can­cer when Day was 12.

Head shots: Ser­gio Gar­cia didn’t ad­vance, but he had some of the most col­or­ful sup­port­ers at Austin Coun­try Club. An­gela Akins, the for­mer Texas Longhorn golfer who is his fi­ancée, and her friends fol­lowed the Spa­niard around the course while hold­ing huge cutouts show­ing Ser­gio’s face. Gar­cia and Akins plan a pri­vate Hill Coun­try wed­ding this sum­mer.

Fleet­ing mo­ment: For about 15 min­utes, Texas ex Jhonat­tan Ve­gas was in po­si­tion to ad­vance af­ter clos­ing out Scott Piercy 3 and 1 for a 2-1 record in his Dell Match Play de­but. But then Bubba Wat­son fin­ished up a draw with Thomas Pi­eters, al­low­ing Wat­son to win the group at 2-0-1.

Wa­tery grave: No word on whether Pi­eters is a soc­cer fan, but the Bel­gian showed fine form with his foot on the 13th hole. Af­ter sink­ing a 3½-foot par to halve the hole with Wat­son, Pi­eters flipped the ball up with his put­ter and then neatly drop­kicked it into Lake Austin.

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