It was perhaps to the detriment of others involved in matches taking place at the time that the focus on the second afternoon of the WGC-Match Play Championship surrounded whether one player would take to the course at all.
Jason Day did take to the 1st tee for his match against Thongchai Jaidee but only after a convoluted scenario where it appeared unclear whether the world No2 had belief in his own physical capacity. And that first drive? To within 11ft of the pin at the 381yd – albeit downwind – opening hole. Day was in serious danger of categorising himself as a drama queen with this, plus the converted eagle putt which followed. By the 3rd tee, the Australian was already two up.
Day’s future in this event and his prospects for the Masters had after all been plunged into doubt after he had to be helped from the Austin club’s 16th green on Wednesday. He defeated Graeme McDowell but suffered what he described as “searing” back pain. Day underwent intense physiotherapy between the end of that first-day match and his encounter with Jaidee. The reversal of his warmup routine on Thursday saw the 28-year-old chip and putt first rather than hit full range shots.
When he did move into full swings, Day was initially tentative, rubbed his back and entered into deep conversation with his caddie, Colin Swatton. The US PGA champion was more free-flowing with longer irons and his driver, thereby providing all the peace of mind Day needed that he could at least attempt to play Jaidee.
As this saga unfolded, Lee Westwood bounced back from an opening round defeat to Sergio García to emerge victorious – by one hole – against Marc Leishman. Westwood thereby retains a chance of progression to the knockout phase, with a final group tie against Ryan Moore to come on Friday.
“I learned a little bit about this last year, playing this format and kind of seeing how it works,” said Moore, who defeated García one-up. “You have got to get wins early. As soon as you get behind, you don’t control your own destiny. It’s up to somebody else.”
In endorsing the merits of a learning curve, as alluded to by Moore, Sheffield’s Matthew Fitzpatrick found himself on the end of a comfortable defeat to a US Ryder Cup player for the second day in succession. Phil Mickelson had swatted Fitzpatrick aside on Wednesday, with Patrick Reed victorious by 4&3 against the Match Play debutant 24 hours later.
“With this kind of course they are polar opposites, the nines. So you have to know if it’s windy on that front nine, it’s not going to blow quite as hard there,” Reed said. “When you get to the back nine, you better expect to howl it. As long as you have control of your golf ball, I feel like anyone’s game could play out here.
“Last year I lost my first match and then won my last two. At the end of the day, I still had to hope for somebody else to do something. Being in this driver’s seat, where I won my first and second [Reed beat Daniel Berger on Wednesday] all I have to do is go out and play well and take care of tomorrow, then I move on. That’s all I can hope for, is to be in the driver’s seat rather than hoping on other guys. It’s one of those things, I finally got myself in the right position and hopefully I’ll continue to play this way.
“I hit it pretty solid yesterday, just the stats weren’t quite there. I was either too aggressive off the tee or I was just taking not the right shots with the wind.
“Today my key was to focus on really putting my ball in play, getting in the fairway, leaving myself better opportunities to hit those greens. I was able to do that today and keep the pressure on him. I think I only missed one or two greens. Any time you do that, the golf course is a lot easier.”
That cold, blustery Texas scene would not ordinarily be viewed as ideal for Bubba Watson. It is therefore to the extroverted, two-times Masters champion’s credit that he claimed a point from Emiliano Grillo of Argentina. The same worries regarding Watson would apply to Dustin Johnson who was even more emphatic in reply, as illustrated by a 5&4 success against Kiradech Aphibarnrat.
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