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Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and world No. 1 golfer Dustin Johnson were among the top seeds and past champions to capture opening group stage matches on Wednesday at the WGC-Match Play Championship.
The 64-player showdown at Austin Country Club uses a round-robin format to determine 16 players for a weekend knock-out event to decide a champion, although it’s a format untested until this year by Woods, who qualified for the first time since 2013.
The 14-time major champion opened solidly but unspectacularly with a 3&1 victory over American 61st seed Aaron Wise, leaving 13th seed Woods atop his all-USA group after Brandt Snedeker and Patrick Cantlay halved.
“We were both struggling a little bit,” Woods said. “It was just trying to beat the guy in front of you and I was able to advance.”
Woods — who won the event in 2003, 2004 and 2008 – fell 1-down when Wise birdied the eighth, ninth and 10th holes. But Wise made bogeys at 13, 15 and 17 to hand Woods the win.
“I was up early then down and up. There was a lot of ebb and flow in this match,” Woods said.
“It’s not like we were playing great golf. Somehow I came out with the win.”
Fourth seed McIlroy, the 2015 WGC-Match-Play winner coming off a Players Championship victory two weeks ago, downed USA 64th and last seed Luke List 5&4.
McIlroy never trailed and never lost a hole and closed with back-to-back seven-foot birdie putts at 13 and 14 to secure the triumph.
“I rode my luck a little bit,” McIlroy said.
“I had some missed shots but somehow got away with most of them. I played well. To birdie 13 and 14 to close the match out was nice. “I needed to respond to what he did and I feel like I did that well so that gives me a little bit of confidence going into tomorrow.”
USA top seed Johnson, the 2017 winner who captured last month’s WGC-Mexico event, opened with a 4&3 win over USA 55th seed Chez Reavie. “I like the golf course. it sets up well for me,” Johnson said.
“It plays tough. The greens are tricky. They are firm. You’ve got to hit quality golf shots if you’re going to get close to the hole.”