Rory McIlroy has been eliminated from the WGC Dell Championship without even hitting a ball. This unfortunate scenario was obviously not what the Ulsterman was looking for in his final event before the Masters.
The world No 2 was due to play the American Gary Woodland in his second group match and, although McIlroy had been beaten on the opening day by the Dane Soren Kjeldsen, he still harboured realistic hopes of winning his four-man group and so qualifying for the weekend’s knockout stages.
But Woodland withdrew because of “a family issue” a few hours before their tee-time, and then when Kjeldsen beat the Argentine Emiliano Grillo 4&3, McIlroy’s chances were reduced to zero. Kjeldsen, the Dane ranked 68th in the world, upset the odds to go through.
McIlroy will still be required to play Grillo tomorrow morning despite the match being a dead rubber. In truth, McIlroy needs the competitive action. His build-up to the season’s first major has already been curtailed because of the two months he spent on the sidelines after fracturing his rib in his first start of the season. The 27-year-old has only played three strokeplay events this year and because of his protracted time here at Austin Country Club he could decide to alter his schedule and play at the Houston Open next week.
Certainly, he will not want to go into the Masters undercooked and if he needs any more convincing that Houston could fix the problem then he might consider that in three of his four major triumphs he has played the week before.
In contrast, Ross Fisher is fighting here simply to make it into the Masters field and after his impressive 2&1 win over world No 4 Hideki Matsuyama only the US Ryder Cup captain stands in his way. If the English beats Jim Furyk tomorrow then he is all but guaranteed to rise into the world’s top 50 and so earn one of the remaining spots at Augusta.
As carrots go, this is golden for the 36-year-old from Ascot who has not appeared in the season’s first major for five years. Fisher’s victory over Matsuyama, one of the form players of 2017 so far, was yet further evidence of a re-emerging talent, following his fourth place at the WGC Mexico Championship three weeks ago.