WASHINGTON: Second-ranked Spaniard Jon Rahm was eliminated after Friday’s group stage finales at the WGC Match Play Championship while defending champion Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy advanced.
Rahm, a three-time PGA winner this year, lost to 2021 WGC Match Play champion Billy Horschel 5 and 4 at Austin Country Club in Texas, where 16 group winners, 12 of them Americans, advanced to knockout rounds.
Rahm didn’t make a birdie and became the only top-six seed ousted in group play as Horschel never trailed in delivering the Spaniard’s second defeat.
“To succeed on a hole-by-hole basis, on a swing-by-swing basis and just add those good swings up one after another, puts a lot of confidence in that tank that I’ve needed for a little bit of time now,” reigning Memorial champion Horschel said.
Scheffler beat South Korean 17th seed Tom Kim 3 and 2 to win his group at a perfect 3-0.
Reigning Masters champion Scheffler, who won the Players Championship earlier this month, booked a last-16 berth against US 43rd seed J.T. Poston.
“I’m just trying to go out and hit good shots, keep doing what I’m doing and executing,” Scheffler said. “I’ve seen some good results recently and I’m hoping to keep that going moving forward.”
McIlroy, the 2015 Match Play winner, never trailed in beating US 20th seed Keegan Bradley 3 and 2 to reach the last 16.
The four-time major winner from Northern Ireland won the fourth and fifth holes with birdies and the seventh on a Bradley bogey then played level from there to start 3-0.
“As every day goes by... the more and more confidence I’m getting with it, which is great,” McIlroy said.
“I struck the ball well and sort of got up early, kept pressure on Keegan. It was nice to get through to the weekend.”
Next for McIlroy is Australian 46th seed Lucas Herbert, who never trailed in beating US 62nd seed Ben Griffin 3&1 to finish 3-0.
Herbert sank a 20-foot eagle putt at the par-5 16th and a 17-foot birdie at the par-3 17th to advance.
US 59th seed Matt Kuchar, the oldest entrant at 44, routed South Korea’s Kim Si-woo 7 and 6 to advance. The 2013 Match Play champion equaled the event record set by Tiger Woods with his 36th match win.
“To tie Tiger’s mark, I don’t know if I have words to put that into perspective,” Kuchar said. “I’m hugely proud, grateful, kind of shellshocked to be in the same sentence with him.”
Kuchar, into the round of 16 for a record ninth time, will next face Australian 32nd seed Jason Day, the 2014 and 2016 winner who beat US two-time major champion Collin Morikawa 4 and 3 to stay perfect.
“He just tied Tiger’s record so that just shows how difficult he is to beat,” Day said of Kuchar. “If he has a good day on the greens it’s going to be difficult to beat him.”
Kuchar was among four lowest group seeds to advance.
US fourth seed Patrick Cantlay also made a 3-0 start, edging compatriot Brian Harman 2and 1 to book a last-16 date with US 13th seed Sam Burns, who reached 3-0 by closing with back-to-back birdies to beat Irishman Seamus Power 2 up.
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, the 2021 Masters champion, forfeited his match against US fifth seed Max Homa with a stiff neck, advancing the unbeaten American into the last 16.
Unbeaten US 61st seed J.J. Spaun birdied the last four holes to rally past Australian Min Woo Lee 2 and 1 and book a last-16 date with reigning Olympic champion Xander Schauffele, the US sixth seed who sank a 13-foot birdie putt at 18 to edge Tom Hoge 1 up and stay perfect.
Kurt Kitayama, who won three weeks ago at Bay Hill, won a three-man playoff to reach a last-16 date with fellow American Andrew Putnam.