Rory McIlroy shook off Sunday’s victory hangover to confidently despatch Jhonattan Vegas on day two of the WGC – Dell Technologies Match-Play Championship in Austin, Texas.
McIlroy, unlike during Wednesday’s opener, was never behind against Vegas winning 2 & 1 with a 17th hole par and he now needs to win against American Brian Harman and for Peter Uihlein to lose his second straight match for the World No. 7 to go through to the last 16.
McIlroy confessed capturing last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational had taken more out of him than anticipated and hence losing Wednesday’s opener to Uihlein. But then there was no such concern on day two of the $10m event.
“Usually you win on Sunday and you’re not teeing it back up again until Thursday, so you have the extra day to rest and prepare,” he said.
“And I didn’t quite have that. So, I came out of the gates a little flat yesterday but was able to produce some good golf when I needed to. It wasn’t quite enough. But I felt better today.”
“I’m happy I got the win, and I’ve got a lot to play for tomorrow.”
After both he and Vegas halved the first, McIlroy took full advantage at the second when Vegas found the left rough and could only advance his second shot some 15-yards, while McIlroy was well right with his drive, he managed to scramble for a winning par to his opponent’s bogey to go 1-up.
The next four holes were halved with Vegas holing some monster putts, including a 14-footer on three and then 12-footers on four and six to stop McIlroy winning the holes.
Vegas got back to even in chipping his second shot from 60-feet at seven to just two-feet for birdie and beating McIlroy’s bogey ‘4’.
McIlroy then raced to 2up winning both eight and nine with pars to bogeys from his World No. 48 rival and then sent a booming 366-yard drive at the ninth with Vegas 36-yards back in the left rough.
The four-time Major winner singled out the turning point in his match when he was at the back of the green at the par-3 11th and saved par from 12-feet to match Vegas’ par.
“If I had to pick out a turning point it was the up-and-down from behind the flag at 11 to stay 2up as my putt was a big putt to hold, and it seemed the difference of being 2up with seven to play was better than if I had of lost to hole to go back to just 1up,” he said.
The duo halved the next three but with McIlroy then biting-off 100-yards more than Vegas with his 13th hole tee shot over water all down the left and landing his second just shot of the green and going 3up with a par.
Then just when you thought McIlroy would win 3 & 2, Vegas birdied the 16th to get back to 2-down. However, pars from both at the par-3 17th ensured a McIlroy victory and after Harman defeated Uihlein 3 & 2 it means if McIlroy defeats Harman and if Vegas should beat Uihlein then McIlroy goes through to the last 16.
If McIlroy and Uihlein should win then it will be a sudden-death play-off to establish the winner of the group.
“I need to win tomorrow and that will at least get me into a play-off to try to get through, obviously depending on how Peter and Jhonny’s match goes,” McIlroy said.
“At least this sort of brought things back into my own hands, which is nice. I didn’t want to have to rely on that. But that’s the beauty of this group play. Some years it works in your favour, like this year, and some years it doesn’t, like last. I played a match on Friday that was basically meaningless.”
“So, it’s nice to still have something to play for tomorrow.”