Rory McIlroy's Nike tribulations continue. This was not in the lucrative, high-profile script. The Northern Irishman suffered a shock first-round defeat by Shane Lowry amid high drama on Thursday evening at the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona.
McIlroy had been two up on his opponent, the lowest ranked player in the field, after four holes but conceded defeat by a hole on the final green. Having made his debut with Nike equipment in Abu Dhabi a month ago, McIlroy has now suffered a missed cut and opening-round defeat in his first two events of 2013.
Wayward iron shots, ominously, have proved the hallmark of McIlroy's last two outings. He came within inches of taking Lowry to extra holes with an 18th-hole bunker shot but the man from County Offaly prevailed. The highlights of Lowry's famous victory were converted chips from greenside rough on the 11th and 12th holes. "I had too many loose iron shots," McIlroy conceded. "I probably should have been a few up after five holes, let Shane get back in and he had a nice run."
Lowry himself was low-key. "It is important not to get too high after the first round," he said.
McIlroy was far from the only golfing luminary to made a premature departure from Tucson. Tiger Woods also slumped to defeat in his first round against Charles Howell III. For a player with such a formidable match-play reputation, Ian Poulter still has unfinished business at Dove Mountain. The Englishman, famed for his Ryder Cup performances and a former winner of the Match Play Championship, tumbled out of this competition at the first-round stage in 2011 and 2012. That point was far from lost on Poulter himself, meaning he was especially pleased to close out victory over Stephen Gallacher when play eventually resumed on Thursday afternoon.
"I'm fully aware of my early exits the last couple years and obviously didn't want to do that again," Poulter said. "I think I put in a lot of work during my time off to come out feeling as strong as I possibly can and I've hit a lot of good shots over the last two days, hit a couple of scruffy ones, but I'm pleased with the way I came out to get through that match. "I'm very much looking forward to trying to go all the way. And matchplay is matchplay, we never know. You can play fantastic and be going home. I take each match as it comes and see if I can get by."
Poulter had been three up on Gallacher before the storm chaos which so seriously impacted on the tournament on Wednesday afternoon. Some 26 hours later the pair returned to the course with Poulter eventually progressing by 2&1 to meet Bo Van Pelt. "It's obviously difficult when you're up in a match and you get called in," Poulter said. "It's easy to lose concentration. "It's certainly easy to lose concentration when they've asked you to be here ready to tee off at 8.30 in the morning, knowing there is five inches of snow and it's 32 degrees outside.
"That's not rocket science to know it's not going to thaw. "That's five hours waiting around to get out there on the golf course. I think it's easy to do the wrong things. I think everybody tried to be aware of that and try and manage their time properly, and you have to put your foot down the second you get on the golf course."
Justin Rose almost suffered on account of the opposite reaction, with Poulter's regular Ryder Cup partner pegged back from four up on KJ Choi to all square by the 12th. Rose eventually regained his composure sufficiently to win 2&1. "I don't care about my play, I feel good about my win," Rose said. "That's what it is all about this week. "I felt edgy all the way through the back nine. I was nervous. I have come off three weeks off so you are still not used to the competitive juices. "But I believed in myself. Even though the match wasn't going my way through the back nine, I believed I could still win the game. That comes from confidence, having good experiences and positive experiences on which to draw.
"I was one down to Phil Mickelson in the Ryder Cup and turned that match around. It was a sort of similar feeling to today, when I had to pull something out towards the end."
There was a wounding loss, though, for Lee Westwood who did not trail Rafael Cabrera-Bello until it mattered most – on the 19th green. Westwood had stood on the 18th tee one up before his infamous short-game problems came back to haunt him.
Sergio Garcia ended up in an unforeseen scrap. The Spaniard started Wednesday with an opportunity from 15ft to defeat Thongchai Jaidee but proceeded to three putt and was eventually taken to extra holes. Garcia made it to round two courtesy of a birdie on the second of them. "I was pleased to get through but I need to get much better if I want to keep going through this week," Garcia admitted. "I was just fortunate to play that second extra hole well enough and make birdie. But I need to improve a lot."
Garcia now faces Matt Kuchar, who confidently saw off the challenge of Hiroyuki Fujita by 3&2. Among the players to make a surprise exit alongside Westwood at the first-round stage were Adam Scott, who was defeated by Tim Clark, and the former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, who lost to Russell Henley. Keegan Bradley also headed home after falling to Marcus Fraser by two holes whilst Ernie Els three-putted the last in handing victory to Fredrik Jacobson. Luke Donald did make it to the last 32, courtesy of a final hole birdie to defeat Marcel Siem.
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