(Reuters) – Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were among the winners in the opening round of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play on Wednesday with both former world number ones taking the chance to fine tune their games ahead of the upcoming Masters.
Woods fell behind fellow American Aaron Wise through 10 holes but battled back to seal the win when the 22-year-old missed a short putt on the 17th, handing the four-times Masters champion a 3 and 1 victory.
The 43-year-old, however, was less than thrilled with his performance on the first of five days action at the sun-soaked day at the Austin Country Club.
“We were both struggling a little bit,” Woods said.
“If this was a strokeplay event we’d be pretty far behind. You just try to beat the guy in front of you and I was able to advance.”
McIlroy had an easier time as the Players Championship winner continued his hot form to rout long-driving American Luke List 5 and 4.
The Northern Irishman, who won the tournament under a different format in 2015, birdied his last two holes to finish List off with authority.
“I rode my luck a little bit and I hit some good shots,” he said.
“Luke would admit he didn’t play his best stuff but I played well.”
American Jordan Spieth, trying to play his way out of a slump, was two holes down with three remaining but managed back-to-back birdies to halve his match with compatriot Billy Horschel.
Afterwards, the 2015 Masters champion said it felt like a win.
“To birdie the last two holes is really big for me right now as I’m looking to gain confidence under pressure and test some of the stuff I’ve been working on,” Spieth said.
“In this matchplay format it feels like you’re battling to win a golf tournament on a Saturday or Sunday. So it was really cool to hit some clutch shots and pull off the tie.”
In other first round action, Kevin Na edged defending champion Bubba Watson, world number one Dustin Johnson crushed Chez Reavie and reigning Masters champion Patrick Reed fell to Andrew Putnam.
In a change in format this year, the 64 players have been divided into 16 groups of four.
Everyone plays everyone else in their group over the first three days, after which the player with the best record in each group advances to the 16-man knockout phase over the weekend.
Woods and McIlroy will face off in the round-of-16 on Saturday if they win their respective groups.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll, editing by Nick Mulvenney)