Jason Day of Australia hits his tee shot on the 2nd hole in the final round at the PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey on July 31, 2016. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
AUSTIN, Texas -- Head to head match play always lends itself to plenty of craziness and that certainly was the case on Wednesday on the first day of pool play competition at the World Golf Championships Match Play at Austin Country Club.
But the most stunning development came in mid-afternoon when defending champion Jason Day of Australia withdrew from the tournament after six holes to be with his ailing mother, who has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and will have surgery on Friday in Columbus, Ohio.
Hometown favorite Jordan Spieth and world No. 2 Rory McIlroy were among the highest-ranked players to lose their first-round of pool-play matches in the first wave of finishers. Top-ranked Dustin Johnson, the always-popular Phil Mickelson and the enigmatic pink ball-playing Bubba Watson all won in the afternoon session.
Spieth, the world's fifth-ranked player, fell to Japan's Hideto Tanihara 4 and 2 after conceding the match on the 16th hole. Spieth, who is from Dallas and was a member of the University of Texas' national championship team in 2012, never led in his match against the 54th-ranked Tanihara and was down three holes after a bogey on the par-5 12th.
Tanihara was at even-par for his round after 15 holes and was happy to sit back and let Spieth's uncharacteristic inconsistency get the best of him.
"It was just an off day," Spieth said. "I played a really good opponent. Tanihara plays a simple game -- point A to point B. He only made one mistake all day. I didn't capitalize on the opportunities that I had early. I was a little behind the eight ball and just didn't have my best stuff. "
McIlroy, from Northern Ireland, was bested 2 and 1 by 62nd-ranked Soren Kjeldsen of Denmark. The match was square through 15 holes before Kjeldsen birdied the par-5 16th and nearly holed his tee shot on the short, par-3 17th, with his ball stopping three feet behind the pin.
"No. 16 was the turning point," McIlroy said. "I hit a great drive and had a wrong club for my second shot. I hit 5-wood and came up short where I had a really difficult chip shot. And I didn't get that up and down. Soren played great -- it's hard to beat that, especially when the wind is getting up. I mean 6-under for 17 holes around here is really good."
Day, ranked No. 3 in the world, conceded his first-round match in pool play on the sixth green. He was 3-down to Pat Perez after a double bogey on the par-5 sixth. Perez had birdied both the par -4 second hole and the par-3 fifth.
"I just need some time away with my mom to make sure that everything goes well because this has been very, very tough for me," Day said. "So, I'm going to do my best and try and be there the best I can for her because she is the reason that I'm playing golf today. And family is first and it's just -- it's just a hard time.
"Emotionally it's been wearing on me for a while. And I know my mom says not to let it get to me, but it really has."
Highlighting the afternoon wave of results were victories by world No. 1 Johnson over No. 58 Webb Simpson by a score of 5 and 3 and No. 14 Mickelson's wire-to-wire, 5-and-3 win against No. 63 Si Woo Kim of South Korea. Also in the afternoon, No. 13 Watson outlasted No. 55 Jhonattan Vegas of Venezuela, 1-up, in a battle of bombers.
Every golfer competes in at least three matches in this event as the field is divided into pool play, with 16 groups of four golfers. Each player in every group goes head-to-head once in rounds Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. A win is worth one point and a tie scores a half point. The golfer who amasses the most points from his three matches moves on to single elimination play on the weekend.
Other results from the opening wave on Wednesday included: No. 20 Brooks Koepka over No. 34 Kevin Kisner 6 and 5; No. 23 Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa over No. 47 Ross Fisher of England, 4 and 3; No. 30 Thomas Pieters of Belgium over No. 39 Scott Piercy, 3 and 2; No. 24 Charl Schwartzel of South Africa over No. 45 Byeong Hun An of South Korea, 6 and 5; and No. 12 Paul Casey of England over No. 60 Joost Luiten of the Netherlands 2 and 1.
Also winning early Wednesday were: No. 33 Gary Woodland over No. 26 Emiliano Grillo of Argentina, 3 and 2; No. 48 William McGirt over No. 19 Brandt Snedeker 2-up; and No. 15 Branden Grace of South Africa over No. 52 Andy Sullivan of England, 4 and 2.
The only halved match in the early wave Wednesday was between No. 32 Ryan Moore and No. 37 Yuta Ikeda of Japan.
Other winners in the afternoon wave were No. 28 Marc Leishman of Australia over No. 43 Lee Westwood of England, 3 and 2; No. 35 Daniel Berger over No. 31 J.B Holmes, 7 and 5; No. 46 Kevin Na over No. 27 Matthew Fitzpatrick of England, 5 and 4; No. 6 Justin Thomas over No. 49 Chris Wood of England, 2 and 1; No. 17 Russell Knox of Scotland over Bill Haas, 3 and 2; and No. 64 K.T. Kim of South Korea over No. 11 Danny Willett of England, 4 and 2.
Also winning their first-round pool play matches were: No. 41 Martin Kaymer of Germany over No. 18 Jimmy Walker, 3 and 2; No. 29 Tommy Fleetwood of England over Zach Johnson, 1-up; No. 36 Bernd Wiesberger of Austria over No. 25 Francesco Molinari of Italy, 2-up; No. 8 Alex Noren of Sweden over No. 57 Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand, 3 and 2; No. 10 Tyrrell Hatton of England over No. 61 Charles Howell III, 2 and 1; No. 22 Rafa Cabrera Bello of Spain over No. 40 Jeunghun Wang of South Korea, 4 and 3; and No. 21 Jon Rahm of Spain over Kevin Chappell, 3 and 2
There were also four halves in the afternoon wave. No. 16 Matt Kuchar and No. 50 Brendan Steele ended up all square as did No. 9 Patrick Reed and No. 59 Jason Dufner. No. 4 Hideki Matsuyama and No. 51 Jim Furyk were also tied after 18 holes of play as was No. 7 Sergio Garcia of Spain and No. 53 Shane Lowery of Ireland.
NOTES: There are 20 countries represented in the 64-player field, tying for the most ever, with the United States leading the way with 27 players in the field. England was represented by nine players, while South Korea had four. Japan, Spain and South Africa each have three players. ... The three highest-seeded players to win the Dell Technologies Match Play are Kevin Sutherland (No. 62 in 2002), Steve Stricker (No. 55 in 2001) and Geoff Ogilvy (No. 52 in 2006). ... Tiger Woods owns the record for the largest winning margin in the final (scheduled 36 holes) with his 8 and 7 win over Stewart Cink at The Gallery at Dove Mountain in 2008. Jason Day's 5-and-4 victory in last year's Championship Match was the largest margin since Woods defeated Cink.