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Top Seeds Stenson, Rose & McIlroy Move On in Match-Play Championship
While No. 1 seeds Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose won in the first round of their brackets, the other top seed, Zach Johnson, didn't in the $9 million WGC Match Play Championship, which began Wednesday at the Golf Club at Dove Mountain in Marana, Ariz.
Stenson edged Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 2 and 1, and McIlroy got past Boo Weekley 3 and 2. Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion, eked out a 1-up win over Scott Piercy. In a bit of a surprise, Johnson lost to South Africa's Richard Sterne 5 and 4, the fourth loss in the past four years for the American.
Stenson, the reigning FedEx Cup champion, sank a 20-foot birdie putt on the 16th, and moved on when Aphibarnrat missed a five-foot matching birdie on the next hole. "I'm still in shock," Stenson told reporters. "It was a tough match."
In other matches, Graeme McDowell staged a great comeback. The Northern Irishman was 4-down through seven holes to Gary Woodland and still three back with three to go. McDowell took advantage of Woodland's mistakes down the stretch to tie him, and then won with a birdie on the 19th.
"I'm sure he's extremely disappointed right now - and I'm extremely elated," McDowell said of his opponent. "I'm surprised to be sitting here, having won. Yeah, I hit a couple of quality shots down the last couple of holes, but he had mistakes, as well. It's a brutal format."
It was a day for extra holes. Brandt Snedeker needed 20 holes to edge England's David Lynn, and Spain's Sergio Garcia took 22 to beat Australian Marc Leishman. South Africa's Ernie Els went 19 to vanquish Scotland's Stephen Gallacher, the same amount of holes it also took fourth-ranked Jason Dufner to beat fellow Yank Scott Stallings.
Defending Match Play champion Matt Kuchar had an easier time of it, beating Austria's Bernd Wiesberger 3 and 2.
In addition to Johnson, another notable first-round loser was Steve Stricker, who fell 3 and 2 to George Coetzee of South Africa. Also heading home early is notable match-play competitor Ian Poulter of England, who lost 2 and 1 to Rickie Fowler.
"It feels like a big win after those missed cuts," Fowler said of his previous three PGA finishes. "It was nice to be the underdog. I had nothing to lose."
Jimmy Walker, the Tour's leading money earner this season off three victories, moved on after a convincing 5 and 4 win over Branden Grace.
Last week's winner in the Northern Trust Open, Bubba Watson, took care of Finland's Mikko Ilonen 2 and 1, finishing out the match with a birdie on the par-4 17th.
And Jordan Spieth beat Pablo Larrazabal 2-up after both players drove into the same bunker on the 18th hole, with Larrazabal's shot going five yards farther and against the lip. "That could easily have been me," Spieth said of his lucky break.
For all the scores, visit http://www.worldgolfchampionships.com/accenture-match-play-championship/leaderboard.html.