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G-Mac produces stirring Arizona fightback as Rory drives his way forward


Battler: Graeme McDowell staged superb comeback

Battler: Graeme McDowell staged superb comeback

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Battler: Graeme McDowell staged superb comeback

RORY McIlroy and Graeme McDowell both progressed in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona last night – but for G-Mac in particular it was the closest of calls.

McDowell trailed American Gary Woodland by three holes with three to play but staged a tremendous fightback to level the match and then win on the first extra hole.

"He looked unbeatable – I thought my manager had my flight booked and I was on my way home," said a relieved McDowell.

"Three down with three to play but I made it to the 18th and then he made a mistake. I feel very fortunate.

"Gary is a good friend and a great player – I feel fortunate to have got through.

"I could feel the momentum swinging my way – I hadn't felt that all day.

"He pummelled me for the first nine holes – I wouldn't like to be in a boxing ring with him. He's a talented player.

"One minute you look down and out but then you get a little bit of luck from the gods," said McDowell, who in the second round plays Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, winner against Martin Kaymer by two and one.

Fellow Ulsterman McIlroy's progress was more straightforward, beating Boo Weekley three and two.

"I played nicely. I'm happy to get through," said McIlroy. "I feel that I've been driving the ball really well the past three or four months.

"My game is based on my driving and if I can drive the ball long and it gives me a big advantage."

McIlroy will now take on American Harris English, five and three winner over Lee Westwood.

Ian Poulter admitted he got what he deserved after suffering his third first round exit in four years.

Poulter, who won the title in 2010, lost two and one to American Rickie Fowler, who led from the fourth hole onwards and will now face compatriot Jimmy Walker in the second round.

Walker, who has already been a winner three times in the 2014 PGA Tour season to date, secured the first victory of the day with a comfortable five and four win over South African Branden Grace.

After the opening three holes were halved, Fowler won three of the next four and needed only one birdie to do so, although Poulter then reduced his deficit with a birdie on the eighth.

A par on the 10th was enough for Fowler to move three up again and although he gave the next hole back with a bogey six, a superb eagle on the par-five 13th restored a three-hole cushion.

In typical fashion Poulter refused to throw in the towel and won the 14th with a birdie from 18ft as Fowler missed from much closer, but further birdie chances went begging on the next three holes to seal his fate.

"Disappointed with my performance today, did not deserve to move on," Poulter said on Twitter. "Congrats to Rickie Fowler."

Fowler said: "I knew it was going to be a tough match. He wasn't playing great today but I knew he was going to find a way to hang around and give me something at the end."

Finland's Mikko Ilonen had looked like creating a shock when he led Bubba Watson by two holes with six to play, but lost the next three holes and Watson sealed a two and one win on the 17th.

"After number 11 I knew I had to fight hard and somehow I did it," Watson said.

"It's very tough with all the media and attention around me after the win on Sunday to focus enough on golf so hopefully this match scared me enough that I will focus a little harder," he added.

Defending champion Matt Kuchar also advanced to the second round, but only after having to win his match with Austria's Bernd Wiesberger twice.

Kuchar thought he had sealed a five and four win on the 14th, but had failed to move his ball marker back to its correct position before holing his birdie putt. That cost him the hole and meant the match continued, but he still had a three-hole cushion and eventually won three and two.

Belfast Telegraph