Opening wins for Kiradech and Matsuyama
Austin, Texas, March 22: Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Hideki Matsuyama of Japan produced comfortable opening wins on the first day of the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play on Wednesday but Asia’s other representatives, Haotong Li of China and India’s Shubhankar Sharma suffered defeats.
South Korea’s Siwoo Kim was forced to settle for a halve with American veteran Pat Perez, who gallantly fought back from being three-down through 11 holes at the Austin Country Club.
Big-hitting Kiradech, who finished T5 at the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship earlier this month, never trailed in his match with Reavie, leading 2-up through the turn and eventually running out a 3 & 2 victory.
“Match play, all you have to do is play better than your competitor. I was able to keep myself in a better position. I was never behind all day. All square, 1-up, all square, 1-up, 2-up, whatever. I just kept myself in a good position and just put a lot of pressure to the other player,” said Kiradech.
The Thai faces Keegan Bradley, who halved his match with Jon Rahm, in his next Group 3 match on Thursday. “It’s still on me. I’m saying I just want to focus on my own game. Today I didn’t play my ‘A’ game, but if I can bring it out tomorrow and Friday, which is to make my points easier and to win the bracket. I love this format. I love to play in match play. The golf course is fantastic. Golf fans nice. Just look forward to playing tomorrow,” said Kiradech, who won the Paul Lawrie Match Play on the European Tour in 2015 and was also victorious in the ISPS HANDA World Super 6 Perth last month which used a six-hole match play elimination format on the final day.
Matsuyama saw off countryman Yusaku Miyazato 2 & 1 and will next face Australian Cameron Smith, who was victorious over Patrick Cantlay. Matsuyama was 2-down through 6 before fighting back. “The birdies at seven and nine got me back into it. And then birdieing 11 and 12 and 13 were huge. That really made the difference,” said Matsuyama, the world No. 6.
Matsuyama has only advanced from the group stage once in his three previous attempts where he lost to eventual champion Rory McIlroy in 2015. A five-time PGA TOUR winner, Matsuyama has two World Golf Championships victories at the 2017 Bridgestone Invitational and the 2016 HSBC Champions. With a win, Matsuyama would join Tiger Woods (18), Dustin Johnson (5), Geoff Ogilvy (3) and Phil Mickelson (3) as the only players with three or more WGC career victories.
The 21-year-old Sharma won the fifth, sixth and seventh holes to make the turn 1-up and maintained the lead through 13 holes before the Spaniard won the 14th hole and 18th hole to snatch the win. Sharma faces 2017 PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year, Xander Schauffele in his next Group 7 match.
“I had a great match with Sergio. Felt like I played well enough with the match going all the way to the 18th hole. I made a few mistakes which Sergio also did the same but that’s match play. However, the good thing was I kept got coming back till the end. One thing for sure is that I need to make more birdies tomorrow,” said Sharma.
“I only made three today. I have to play the par 4s and 3s better in the coming days. All in all, I’m happy with how I played. Sergio made a good birdie putt on 16 and then made another good putt for par on 17 and of course on the 18th hole as well to win the match. He made some great putts. I’m looking forward to my next match with Xander (Schauffele). I’ve played with him before and I’ll try to make as many birdies as possible and hope for a good start tomorrow.”
China’s Li, who like Sharma is making his debut at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, lost 3 & 2 to American match play expert, Patrick Reed. Li faces Jordan Spieth on Thursday in a match he has to win to keep alive his hopes of progressing into the next phase of competition from Group 4.