Rory McIlroy must hope his quota of 2017 misfortune has now been used up. The rib injury which disrupted the initial stages of his Masters preparation might be consigned to history but there was further cause for McIlroy to question whatever happened to the luck of the Irish on Thursday, as Gary Woodland’s withdrawal from the WGC Match Play Championship coupled with the later victory for Soren Kjeldsen meant the four-time major winner was eliminated without hitting a single shot in anger.
It will hardly improve McIlroy’s mood that he must face Emiliano Grillo in a Friday a dead rubber . Weather disruption has been predicted, as if for good measure. If McIlroy dons a Green Jacket a fortnight on Sunday, he really will have enjoyed the last laugh.
Only half an hour before McIlroy was due to face Woodland, news emanated that the American had pulled out of the tournament. A statement from Woodland’s management company cited a “personal family situation.” McIlroy was duly awarded a walkover but the key element was Kjeldsen benefiting from the same on Friday. If Kjeldsen could secure at least a halved match with Grillo, the inspired Dane having beaten McIlroy on day one, his progress from Group 2 was certain.
Unsurprisingly in gusting conditions of more than 30mph, Kjeldsen prevailed by 4&3. Perhaps McIlroy should look on the bright side; he will now be afforded a quieter time in the immediate lead-up to the Masters than has historically been the case. Freshness should come naturally. The alternative, worrying aspect is attached to McIlroy potentially lacking competitive golf.
Sergio García enjoyed a more fruitful Thursday, his victory over Kevin Chappell meaning a Spanish battle to reach the last 16 against Jon Rahm on day three. Rahm, whose star is on the rapid rise, defeated Shane Lowry 2&1.
Bubba Watson bounced back to prominence on day two here with a 4&3 win over Scott Piercy, during which he birdied six of the opening 12 holes. Afterwards Watson explained how a winter fitness drive – he has limited sugar in his diet – had unforeseen effects. His 2017 form has been notably poor.
“The adjustment has been losing about 20lb and getting out of whack with ball position, with everything, chipping, putting, driving, irons, everything,” Watson said. “A light went off last week and we figured it out. I played good on Sunday, worked on it hard this week and we’re on the right track right now.
“I still have sugar, natural sugar, I eat fruit and all those things. I’m just trying to cut out and eat cleaner, get in better shape so I can walk up these hills every once in a while. I went to Augusta a week ago and practised for a couple of days. It all comes down to ball-striking. It doesn’t matter what your form is. I can win every tournament leading up to the Masters, that doesn’t mean you’re going to play good at the Masters.”
Result of the day, perhaps, belonged to the US Ryder Cup captain, Jim Furyk, as he defeated Louis Oosthuizen 3&2. The South African has a terrific match-play record and reached the final here 12 months ago. “You know you’ve got your hands full when you are playing against him,” said Furyk. “He made some mistakes today. I didn’t see Louis at his best.”
Ross Fisher’s victory over Hideki Matsuyama was significant with the Masters in mind. Fisher is seeking to gain enough world ranking points this week to earn an invitation to Augusta. On Friday he will face Furyk, whom he defeated in the World Match Play of 2009. “Obviously I know Jim very well,” Fisher said. “He’s such a gritty competitor, very solid. He doesn’t make many mistakes. It’s going to be a tough game. If I want to win, I have to play very, very well.”
The world No1, Dustin Johnson, seeking a third tournament victory in a row, saw off Martin Kaymer 3&2. Matthew Fitzpatrick emerged victorious from an all-English clash with Chris Wood and Phil Mickelson dismissed Daniel Berger 5&4. Danny Willett’s poor run continued as he was humbled 6&5 by Bill Haas.