Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy remained on course for a dream All-Ireland final thanks comfortable first round wins in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona. But the hurt goes on for Padraig Harrington and Tiger Woods.
Harrington crashed out by 4 and 3 to Geoff Ogilvy to make his exit in the first round for the third year in row as Woods lost to Dane Thomas Bjorn at the 19th having birdied the last to force extra holes.
The Dubliner was fearful of the Australian before the start and he paid a high price for a few wayward tee shots at the wrong time against the two-time champion.
Things started badly when he conceded the first after being forced to take a penalty drop in the desert and after losing the short third to a par, he only managed a win in par at the sixth before falling further behind.
He lost the seventh to a solid par four after being forced to take another penalty drop in the desert and then lost the ninth to an Ogilvy birdie to go three down.
Things didn’t improve on the back nine and the three time major winner lost the 10th to a par four when he overshot the green and failed to get up and down from the scrub.
He won the 11th with a par-five when Ogilvy pushed his drive into the cactii but the match ended quickly when Ogilvy eagled the 13th and then closed out match at the driveable 15th when Harrington hit the green but three-putted.
There were no such problems for McDowell, who confessed that the pressure is off after he shook off his first round hoodoo for the first time since 2005 by outclassing American Heath Slocum by 4 and 3 to set up a clash with his stablemate Ross Fisher today.
And it was just as easy for McIlroy, who overcame a shaky spell early on to ease to a comfortable 4 and 2 victory over American star Jonathan Byrd and a date with American Ben Crane.
On a day when defending champion Ian Poulter was furious with himself after losing on the 19th to Stewart Cink, McDowell was relieved to get over the winning line for the first time since he beat Darren Clarke in the opening round at La Costa six years ago.
“I’ve had my bags packed by noon here the first two years and it’s a horrible feeling driving out of that car park that early,” McDowell said. “I am just glad to get a round under my belt.
“Okay, I have a tough game tomorrow with Ross but this win kind of takes some of the pressure away and I can go out and play some golf now.
“Ross has played well here before and I have my work cut out but I feel I can do the job.”
McDowell struggled with his game in practice and on the range before the start but while he lost the first after overshooting the green, he was soon motoring into a comfortable lead.
Slocum hadn’t played a matchplay encounter since the 1995 U.S. Amateur Public Links and the gulf in class showed as the day went on.
“I feel like I played well myself and he didn’t play his best and make me play,” McDowell said. “I could fire to the correct side of pins and win a few holes with pars, which is always nice.
“I hit it well off the tee, hit a few decent iron shots and holed a few nice putts. But every match is tough and I have got to prepare myself to play one of my good friends tomorrow.
“Ross a great match player and has a good record in this tournament so I will have to play well to beat him.”
McDowell showed his intent early, winning the par-five second with an eagle set up by a magnificent, 234-yard five-iron to just 18 feet and raced four up at the turn before closing out the match at the 15th.
McIlroy and Byrd were square through three holes before the Holywood starlet moved into the lead when he hit a 323 yard drive to the edge of the fourth green and chipped in for an eagle two.
Pointing to his eagle as the turning point, McIlroy said: “I got off to a shaky start and missed a couple of greens but the two on four sort of settled me down and I never looked back after that.”