Three days after ending an 18-month winless drought and Rory McIlroy was handed a shock 2 & 1 defeat at the hands American Peter Uihlein on day one of the WGC – Dell Technologies Match-Play Championship in Austin, Texas.
McIlroy was never in his match against the current World No. 63 American who was 4up after just nine holes on the Austin County Club course.
Uihlein went to 5up at the 10th before a late McIlroy fightback with the four-time Major champ birding 14, 15 and 16 before Uihlein sealed victory with a regulation par on 17 in the first of three round-robin matches where the top-16 win through to the weekend.
Last Sunday McIlroy celebrated ending an 18-month winless drought, birding five of his six closing holes in capturing the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando. He arrived in the Texas capital naturally in good spirits but after losing the second hole, as Uihlein holed a seven-footer for birdie, the smile began to slowly fade from his face.
The Ulsterman conceeded the par-3 fourth hole after a poor tee shot that flew the green before he landed his second to some 30-foot from the flag while Uihlein putted his second shot from 52-feet to just 18-inches. McIlroy then lost the fifth to more Uihlein magic before the next three holes where halved in pars.
Uihelin, making his debut in the $10m event, then took full advantage of a wild McIlroy drive left at the ninth splitting the fairway with a 360-yard effort and landing his second to only three feet for birdie while McIlroy missed his third from 36-feet.
It seemed any hope McIlroy may ignite a back-nine fightback was quickly snuffed out when the 28-year old Uihlein, a former four-time European Challenge Tour winner, again capitalised on a McIlroy mistake in chipping his second at the 10th to three-feet after McIlroy found a greenside bunker with his second.
Uihlein was now 5up but McIlroy was not about to give up and came fighting back with three birdies in succession from the 14th hole only to lose at the penultimate hole.
McIlroy said: “I made him earn it at least. I made the score line a little more respectable. I just came away a little flat. I didn’t really necessarily play badly. Peter played pretty well. It was a few under through 9, I got down early and he didn’t make a bogey all day.”
“So, it was hard to sort of claw my way back. It was gusty out there, the conditions were a little tricky. As I said, I made a run at him at the end, but it was a little too late.”
Uihlein was naturally delighted with victory and with Aussie-born caddy, Ben Hayes again calling the shots.
“I felt like I was in control all day after winning the second hole and from thereon I was the second to putt and having chances to win the hole,” said Uihlein.
“I was very solid tee-to-green and only missed one green all day and that was on 16, so I felt like I was keeping the pressure on Rory all day.”
McIlroy tackles Texas-based Jhonattan Vegas in a must win round two match with Vegas having halved his first match with American Brian Harman and who McIlroy will tackle on Friday.
Should Vegas win it will mean McIlroy cannot go through even should he defeat Harman on day three.
However, it was left to giant Austrian Bernd Wiesberger handed out the biggest shock of the day, humbling World No. 1 and defending champion, Dustin Johnson with a 3 & 1 triumph.
Reigning PGA Champion, Justin Thomas was handed a lessor scare when fellow American Luke List, using his wedge as a putter, got to within 1-down with a hole to play. List, 33 who is contesting his first WGC title, ‘accidentally’ bent his putter in a fit of frustration walking off the sixth tee.
“I was a little unhappy losing the 6th and feeling a little under the weather, and I thought it was a bush area when I swiped my putter but it turned out to be a wall,” said List.
“So, unfortunately I couldn’t use the putter the rest of the way. Just stupid on my part.”
Match-play specialist Ian Poulter, contesting the event for a 13th occasion including winning in 2010, was never behind in handing European Tour No. 1 Tommy Fleetwood a 2 & 1 defeat.