An amazing tee shot by Rory McIlroy led the world No. 3 to join top-ranked defending champion Scottie Scheffler and second-ranked Jon Rahm in capturing clutch victories from Thursday’s second group matches at the World Golf Championship Match Play event.
The Northern Irishman made an epic drive with a stunning 375-yard blast at the 18th hole, landing the ball within four feet of the hole for a tap-in eagle that clinched a 2-up triumph over 48th seed Denny McCarthy.
“It was good,” McIlroy said. “I didn’t think I could get it on the green.”
The four-time Major champion and Scheffler remained unbeaten while Rahm bounced back from an opening loss at Austin (Texas) Country Club, where 16 winners from four-man groups will advance to weekend knockout rounds.
McIlroy, the 2015 Match Play champion, did not lead McCarthy until the par-five 16th hole when he had a tap-in birdie and the American missed a seven-foot birdie putt to put McIlroy 1 up.
Then came McIlroy’s clinching tee shot, which was airborne for 349 yards, nearly 70 yards longer than the average PGA Tour carry, before rolling up to the cup for a tap-in.
“I just played really well, played really solid,” he added. “Didn’t make a bogey and made some birdies when I needed to and thankfully was able to win.”
Also in McIlroy’s group, 20th seed Keegan Bradley won his first WGC match in 11 years, ripping fellow American Scott Stallings 6&5.
Reigning Masters champion Scheffler, who won the Players Championship earlier in March, downed Swedish 38th seed Alex Noren 5&4 after only edging American 54th seed Davis Riley 1 up in a Wednesday opener.
“I just went out and played solid, no bogeys, and made some key putts,” he said.
“I just kind of kept the pressure on him and hit really good shots.”
Rahm, a three-time PGA winner in 2023, bounced back from an opening loss to Rickie Fowler by beating 39th seed Keith Mitchell of the United States 4&3.
The Spaniard made five birdies and a 14-foot eagle putt at the par-five 12th while never trailing to keep his title hopes alive.
“Not many mistakes tee to green,” Rahm said. “Made a few birdie putts and got a comfortable lead.”
American seventh seed Will Zalatoris was eliminated with a 5&3 loss to his compatriot, the 37th seed Harris English and Norway’s eighth-seeded Viktor Hovland was ousted with a 4&3 loss to South Korean 34th seed Kim Si-woo.