Sud­den death holds no fears for McIl­roy as bid stays alive

Holder ad­vances to last 16 af­ter edg­ing out Amer­i­can on the sec­ond ex­tra hole

The Herald - Herald Sport - - GOLF - BRUCE LANGHOLM

RORY MCIL­ROY sur­vived a sud­den­death play-off to keep his hopes of a sec­ond suc­ces­sive WGC-Dell Match Play ti­tle alive in Texas.

On a day when Scots­man Rus­sell Knox was ousted from the event af­ter a 5&4 de­feat to South Africa’s Bran­den Grace, McIl­roy, who has never suc­cess­fully de­fended a tour­na­ment in his pro­fes­sional ca­reer, de­feated Amer­i­can Kevin Na on the sec­ond ex­tra hole of their win­ner-takes-all con­test to ad­vance to the last 16 at Austin Coun­try Club.

The world No 3 found him­self two down af­ter a dou­ble bo­gey on the sec­ond and a Na birdie on the fifth, but bounced back with a birdie on the sev­enth and then holed from 65 feet on the ninth to get back on level terms.

Na re­claimed the lead with a birdie on the 10th but McIl­roy’s new putting tech­nique again paid div­i­dends as he holed from 30 feet on the next, be­fore edg­ing in front for the first time on the 15th.

How­ever, McIl­roy drove into the wa­ter on the 16th and Na won the hole with a birdie four, with nei­ther player then able to se­cure vic­tory in reg­u­la­tion or on the first ex­tra hole.

Na then hooked his tee shot on the sec­ond into a haz­ard, and a par from McIl­roy was enough to se­cure a meet­ing with Open cham­pion Zach John­son, who had ear­lier de­feated Shane Lowry 4&3 to com­plete a per­fect 3-0 record in group 14.

“I had to dig pretty deep,” McIl­roy said. “Kevin is a very good com­peti­tor and he was not re­ally giv­ing me much out there. I holed a few long putts to keep it to­gether when I needed to.

“I had a cou­ple of chances to maybe close the match out on the last and the first ex­tra hole but for the most part I felt I played pretty well. I re­sponded to some of his good shots with good shots my­self and that gives me con­fi­dence go­ing into the week­end.

“But it does not get any eas­ier. This is a course that re­ally sets up well for Zach. It’s a pre­ci­sion type of course and if he gets the ball in play he will be very hard to beat.

“I feel like my match-play game is pretty good and no mat­ter what he does I am go­ing to have to re­spond to it.”

The play-off be­tween McIl­roy and Na fol­lowed one be­tween Grace and Amer­i­can Chris Kirk, who had to wait more than two hours for the first tee to clear af­ter Grace eased past Knox and Kirk de­feated David Ling­merth 3&2.

A par on the first ex­tra hole was then enough for Kirk to ad­vance to face com­pa­triot Bill Haas, who birdied the 17th and 18th to de­feat in-form Aus­tralian Adam Scott.

In­ver­ness ex­ile Knox had gone into the fi­nal day of group matches at the top of his ta­ble, fol­low­ing a halved match with Ling­merth and a 2&1 vic­tory over Kirk, but his hopes of a last 16 berth were de­nied by a pur­pose­ful Grace.

Grace, the world No 12, was ap­prox­i­mately three-un­der for the holes played whereas Knox was three­over on a test­ing day when he could only muster one birdie and didn’t win a sin­gle hole.

The de­feat leaves Knox head­ing home to Jack­sonville Beach in Florida to pre­pare for his up­com­ing Masters de­but, hav­ing de­cided to skip next week’s PGA Tour event, the Shell Hous­ton Open.

Else­where, Ja­son Day had been the first player into the last 16 af­ter his fi­nal group two op­po­nent Paul Casey was forced to with­draw from their con­test af­ter six holes due to a stom­ach virus.

That gave Day his third vic­tory of the week and wel­come time to rest fol­low­ing the back in­jury he suf­fered dur­ing his open­ing vic­tory over Graeme McDow­ell, al­though the world num­ber two had shrugged off doubts about his par­tic­i­pa­tion by beat­ing Thongchai Jaidee 5&3 on Thurs­day.

“Un­for­tu­nately Paul has some stom­ach virus and I over­heard him say he has lost eight pounds since he has had it and that drains the en­ergy out of you,” Day told Sky Sports.

“My back is get­ting bet­ter each and ev­ery day. This is a bless­ing in dis­guise where I can get some more treat­ment again, have the rest of the day off and then maybe have 36 holes on each day this week­end.”

Day will face Brandt Snedeker in the last 16 af­ter Snedeker de­feated Charl Schwartzel 5&3, while Matt Kuchar ad­vanced to take on Brooks Koepka thanks to a 3&2 win over for­mer US Open cham­pion Justin Rose.

Pic­ture: Getty Images

MARCH­ING ON: Rory McIl­roy edged out Kevin Na at the WGC Dell Match­play Cham­pi­onship.

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