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Resilient Rory McIlroy gets out of jail in rollercoaster start to World Match Play defence

By Phil Casey

Defending champion Rory McIlroy traded blows with Thorbjorn Olesen in their opening clash of the WGC-Dell Match Play and then finished with a flourish to snatch victory on the final hole.

The Ulsterman was two down after playing the 13th but that lead was wiped out by the following two holes and then he held his nerve on the 18th to finally break the resistance of the great Dane.

Olesen put up a ferocious fight but a disastrous bogey on the last saw the match slip away from him by a solitary score.

It was the first time McIlroy had been ahead in the clash after a round of very mixed fortunes.

A birdie on the second saw Olesen go one up and he extended his lead with another birdie on the fourth.

McIlroy hit back immediately with a birdie on the fifth and a bogey on the seventh for Olesen made it honours even.

But the Holywood man's bogey on the eighth allowed the 26-year-old to retake the lead. Then it was an unlucky 13th for McIlroy as he fell two behind after hitting the water with his tee shot.

On the next hole a bogey from Olesen allowed the World No.3 to close the gap again and a stunning birdie from McIlroy on the 15th left the match all square once more before his last-gasp triumph.

In another ding dong battle, a costly bogey on the 16th saw Shane Lowry lose by one to Martin Kaymer.

World No.2 Jason Day, meanwhile, suffered an injury scare just 15 days before the Masters after recovering from an early deficit to beat Ryder Cup hero Graeme McDowell.

Day headed straight into the clubhouse for treatment after appearing to injure his lower back in the closing stages of his 3&2 victory over McDowell in their opening group match at Austin Country Club.

The 28-year-old did not speak to reporters but his coach and caddie Colin Swatton said he noticed an issue on the 15th tee.

"He grabbed his back and said, 'Oh, I just tweaked it,'" Swatton said. "Up until that point, there was nothing. He's been great all year, out of the blue. I don't know if it was one swing."

Ulsterman McDowell joked: "I'm not going to say it rubbed salt in my wound when a guy is three up with three to go and then he starts hurting and is able to limp up and win, but it does put a salty edge in it. Go down six holes ago if you're going."

Phil Mickelson did not lose a single hole in beating Matt Fitzpatrick 5&4, while there were narrow wins for Charl Schwartzel over Danny Lee and Brandt Snedeker against Charley Hoffman. Jason Dufner edged out Rickie Fowler 2&1 while Sergio Garcia beat Lee Westwood on the 18th.

World No.1 Jordan Spieth beat Jamie Donaldson 3&2.

Belfast Telegraph

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