McIlroy and Lowry exit early in Texas
 Jon Rahm

Jon Rahm

Bar a surprise, Rory McIlroy won't be a last-minute entry to join Shane Lowry in the Shell Houston Open despite his early elimination from the WGC - Dell Technologies Match Play. But it must be tempting for the 27-year old, who will have been hoping for more than just one truly competitive round in Austin before the Masters.

McIlroy was eliminated from without playing a shot on Thursday when Gary Woodland withdrew citing "a personal family matter", giving the Ulsterman and Soren Kjeldsen (today) walkovers. 

Lowry was also eliminated in Texas when he lost to Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia beat Kevin Chappell to set up a winner takes all clash with his fellow Spaniard today.

McIlroy will also be playing today but will be for pride in a dead rubber with Argentina's Emiliano Grillo, who failed to do him a favour against Kjeldsen.

Brackets

With Woodland withdrawing due to family reasons, world No 2 McIlroy sat out on Thursday hoping that Grillo could beat his nemesis in round one and keep his options alive. 

But Grillo, two up after two, lost 4 and 3 to the 41-year old Dane, who joined Alex Noren in booking and early place in the last 16.

Kjeldsen’s victory means McIlroy’s match against Grillo on Friday becomes meaningless as neither the Northern Irishman nor the Argentinean can pass Kjeldsen in their group. 

Kjeldsen said: “I'm very pleased to make it through. Obviously, I was in a very, very, very tough group and I got through that which is a great achievement to start.

"It’s a shame that Gary had to withdraw though. I don't know the details, but Gary is one of the nicest guys out here. So we wish him all the best, and his family all the best. 

“The weather forecast isn't great tomorrow so I am not sure what I’ll do with the day off. I've got my two boys here. We're just going to take it easy.

"If the weather is decent in the afternoon I'll come and practice a bit. Apart from that, I'll just enjoy it.”

Noren will benefit from the withdrawal of Francesco Molinari on Friday. The Italian was forced out of the tournament with a wrist injury, meaning the Swede will have a 3-0 record in the group stage.

 AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 23: Alex Noren of Sweden tees off on the 2nd hole of his match during round two of the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play at the Austin Country Club. Photo by Darren Carroll/Getty Images

AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 23: Alex Noren of Sweden tees off on the 2nd hole of his match during round two of the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play at the Austin Country Club. Photo by Darren Carroll/Getty Images

Kjeldsen and Noren are the only two players to have secured their place in the last 16, but they look likely to be joined by World Number One Dustin Johnson, who defeated Martin Kaymer 3&2 to secure his second victory of the week and continue his imperious form.

There are some intriguing match-ups on Friday, chief among them the all-Spanish battle between Garcia and  Rahm with Garcia needing a victory and Rahm needing at least a half point to advance.

Lowry was far from his best, failing to make a birdie as he went down by 2 and 1 to emerging superstar Rahm in tough, windy conditions at Austin Country Club.

All square after nine and still level with five to play, he failed to get up and down for par from just short of the 14th to go one down.

Rahm, who had hit a 436-yard drive downwind at the par-five 12th, then applied pressure with some great tee shots on the next two holes.

Having forced Lowry to scramble from eight feet to halve the 15th, the big Basque hit another fine tee shot into the wind at the 16th, where Lowry pulled his into a water hazard

While he again saved par from eight feet, Lowry went two down when Rahm hit a stunning, 258-yard approach into the wind to 40 feet and two-putted for his birdie four before closing out the match with a half in par threes at the 17th.

"I was teeing off first, and I knew it would put a lot of pressure, but the wind was so far down," Rahm said of the 15th. "I hit a great one, put it down here. The same with 16... I got a couple of unexpected results on a couple of the swings. I hit the perfect one when I needed it."

Looking forward to his clash with Garcia, Rahm added: “Obviously Sergio and I both hoped this match would be later on in the tournament, obviously in the final. But we were both in the same group, so I suppose whoever wins tomorrow will be in the next round. At least it's good for Spanish golf!”