WGC Match Play: Shubhankar loses again, set for exit
Austin (Texas), Mar 23 (PTI) India's Shubhankar Sharma was not in his element as he lost to Xander Schauffele with a hole to spare in the second match of the WGC-Dell Match Play here.
The 21-year-old Indian, who took the reigning Masters champion, Sergio Garcia to the 18th hole, lost 3&1 to Schauffele.
Two defeats in two matches means Shubhankar is out of the race for a berth in the knock-out stage, but he could still gain a lot of confidence with a win in the third league match against Dylan Fritelli.
Even as Dustin Johnson crashed out, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson kept their chances alive, while Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed meet in their final league match to decide, who goes into the knockout stages.
Flying the Asian flag was Thai star Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who maintained his winning run with a thrilling 1-up triumph over Keegan Bradley of the US.
After a comfortable opening day win over Chez Reavie, Kiradech produced late birdies on 17 and 18 to turn the tables on Bradley. Kiradech needs a win or a half in his last group match against world No. 3 Jon Rahm to enter the knock-out phase.
Playing against Sharma, who caught the eye at the previous WGC in Mexico by leading after 54 holes, Schauffele set the tone from the beginning as he birdied from over 40 feet on the first, while Sharma double bogeyed.
Schauffele was two-up by the third, but successive birdies by Sharma on fourth and fifth brought the match to all square. It seemed that the Indian youngster would make the 2017 PGA Tour 'Rookie of the Year' sweat. But Schauffele was never headed as he won two of the next three holes.
Despite Sharma winning the ninth with a birdie, the American turned with a 1-up lead. That swelled to 3-up by the 12th and both players halved the next three holes. Sharma did win the 16th with his fourth birdie of the day, but Schauffele closed the match on 17th with a par as Sharma bogeyed. Sharma bogeyed four times and also had a double while Schauffele was consistent and had no bogeys in his 17 holes.
Garcia rallied in the final seven holes with three birdies to set up a showdown with Schauffele for a berth in the knock-out stage. Garcia was 2 down at the turn but his birdie at the 10th with a tough pin placement sparked his comeback.
Among other Asians, South Korea's Siwoo Kim, the reigning THE PLAYERS Championship winner, cruised to a 5 & 3 win over Gary Woodlands to keep alive his hopes of progressing into the next round.
The other Asians in the Match Play suffered losses on day two. World No. 6 Hideki Matsuyama fell to Australian Cameron Smith 1-up, Satoshi Kodaira of Japan lost 1-up to Phil Mickelson, Yuta Ikeda lost 1-up to Matt Kuchar and China's Haotong Li was outplayed by Jordan Spieth 4 & 2.
Among the top stars, Spieth and Reed set up a showdown to see who wins the group and advances to the weekend of this World Golf Championship.
Spieth dodged some early bullets against Haotong Li, who missed putts inside 8 feet on two of the opening three holes. But Spieth never trailed and pulled away for 4&2 win.
Reed in his match against Charl Schwartzel was 2-down at the turn until he won the next two holes to set up a tight finish.
Schwartzel stayed 1-down when he missed a 5-foot par putt on the 17th. Needing a birdie on the 18th to halve, Schwartzel could only watch as Reed hit a wedge that nearly went in and stopped a few inches away.
Defending champion Dustin Johnson is out of the race and will an inconsequential match. A year after winning comfortably Johnson lost to Bernd Wiesberger on Wednesday, and fell behind early in a 4-and-3 loss to Adam Hadwin yesterday.
McIlroy and Mickelson are still in with a chance. McIlroy had an easy time beating Jhonattan Vegas, while Brian Harman knocked out Peter Uihlein in the other match in their group.
Harman will win the group if he beats McIlroy on Friday; McIlroy has to win to have any chance of making it to the weekend. Mickelson, who lost to Charles Howell III in the opening round, rallied from 4-down after eight holes and won the last three holes to beat Satoshi Kodaira