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Rory McIlroy left kicking his heels as he makes exit

By Robert Jones

Rory McIlroy faced a unique situation at the WGC-Dell Technologies Matchplay in that he was eliminated on day two without even playing a hole.

The World number two's fate was already out of his hands after his loss to Soren Kjeldsen on Wednesday, and that remained the case despite being gifted victory in his second match.

McIlroy, who was beaten 2&1 in a tight match by Kjeldsen, was due to face American Gary Woodland yesterday, the man he beat in the 2015 final.

However, Woodland withdrew from the £7.8million event at Austin Country Club due to a "personal family matter". A statement released by Woodland's management company read: "Due to a personal family matter, Gary Woodland must withdraw from the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play. We ask that you respect his family's privacy at this time."

That left Kjeldsen - who would have played Woodland today - needing only to halve his match with Argentina's Emiliano Grillo to advance to the last 16.

Instead, the Dane put in a fantastic performance that made a mockery of his 62nd placed seeding, as he emphatically made it into the knockout stages, winning 4&3.

It means disappointment for McIlroy, who will now turn all of his attention towards Augusta National in two weeks' time when he will aim to win the only major to elude him thus far, the US Masters.

Yesterday turned out to be a day of withdrawals as, just 24 hours after defending champion Jason Day pulled out of the event to spend time with his mother as she undergoes treatment for lung cancer, Italy's Francesco Molinari also withdrew with a wrist injury after suffering a 5&3 defeat to Thongchai Jaidee.

That meant Sweden's Alex Noren, who was due to play Molinari today, was guaranteed to advance from group eight having beaten Bernd Wiesberger 3&2 to claim his second win of the week.

In contrast, Masters champion Danny Willett was eliminated with a game to spare after being thrashed 6&5 by American Bill Haas, while World number one Dustin Johnson made it two wins out of two by beating Martin Kaymer 3&2.

Sergio Garcia also moved back into contention to progress with a 4&3 win over Kevin Chappell.

Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson also showed signs of a return to form with his second win, the left-hander beating compatriot Scott Piercy 4&3.

Watson has not had a top-10 finish since September's Tour Championship and, despite being ranked seventh in the world at the time, was left off the United States Ryder Cup team.

But the World number 17 could be rounding into form at the right time with the Masters just a fortnight away.

"I'm always thinking about Augusta," Watson said. "If there's a major - not a golf tournament, but a major - built for me, where I have a good shot at it, that's it. That's just common sense, right? Everybody knows a lot of the holes go the way that I want to shape it, and there's not high rough."

Watson can book his place in the last 16 by beating Thomas Pieters today, the Belgian Ryder Cup star having lost to Jhonattan Vegas yesterday.

Belfast Telegraph

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