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Putting prowess leads Rory McIlroy to a flying start at the WGC Match Play

 

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Driving on: Rory McIlroy tees off in Austin

Driving on: Rory McIlroy tees off in Austin

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Driving on: Rory McIlroy tees off in Austin

Rory McIlroy got the fast start he craved in the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play in Texas.

The Holywood star made six putts outside six feet en route to a 5&4 win over Luke List and today faces Justin Harding, who had a surprise one-up victory over Matthew Fitzpatrick yesterday, with only the group winners making the last-16 on Saturday.

McIlroy had lost his opening group match in his previous two starts at Austin Country Club and failed to make the weekend knockout stages.

But he gave List little chance last night despite not playing his very best golf, turning two-up before closing out a comfortable win with birdies at the 13th and 14th.

"Luke let me away with a couple," said McIlroy, who made a 20-footer for bogey at the ninth that proved good enough for a crucial half before closing out the match with a brace of eight-footers.

"We both bogeyed the seventh hole and then I was messing around on nine and holed a 20-footer for a bogey.

"It was important to make him hole his putt to win the hole and luckily for me he missed his and I played a good back nine and made two good birdies to close it out."

McIlroy plays Justin Harding in his second match on Thursday. The pair tee off at 4.54pm GMT. The 64 competitors have been seeded and split into 16 groups with the winners of each progressing to the knock-out stage. Two rounds on Saturday and Sunday whittle those down to the eventual winner. The fourth member of McIlroy's group is Englishman Matthew Fitzpatrick, who lost to Harding on Thursday.

South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen lost 3&2 to Kyle Stanley but confirmed he'll prepare for The Open at Royal Portrush by playing the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Lahinch.

"I'm really looking forward to getting back to Ireland and playing links golf again," said the 2010 Open champion, who last played the Irish Open in 2009.

"Playing in America, you lose the feel of links golf and you need a proper links course to get those low, running shots back.

"I'll be over there in Ireland for three weeks and I'll have the family with me, so it'll be fun.

"I'll spend the week playing links golf, the week in between taking a break with the family, drive around Ireland, go along the west coast all the way up to Portrush."

Europe's bid for a fourth win in a row on US soil began well with Danes Lucas Bjerregaard and Thorbjorn Olesen beating Justin Thomas and Webb Simpson respectively.

Tommy Fleetwood defeated Ben An 3&2, Ian Poulter saw off Kevin Kisner by two holes and Valspar Championship winner Paul Casey cruised to a 5&4 win over Abraham Ancer.

Open champion Francesco Molinari beat Satoshi Kodaira 5&4, Justin Rose saw off Emiliano Grillo 2&1, and Henrik Stenson edged out Phil Mickelson 2&1 in the 'Group of Death' where Jim Furyk came back from three down after eight to beat Jason Day two-up.

Tiger Woods had to dig deep to beat Aaron Wise 3&1 as a struggling Jordan Spieth came back from two down after 15 holes to snatch a half with Billy Horschel.

Ulsterman Graeme McDowell would prefer to be in Austin, but he sees this week's Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship as a golden opportunity to end his near three-and-a-half-year drought.

"I feel like I am on the cusp of really playing well again," said the World No.257, who is joined in the Dominican Republic by Paul Dunne and Seamus Power, who tied for fifth last year.

"If I was to win here this week, it would give me a massive leapfrog forward.

"I am certainly not underestimating the importance of a week like this."

On the LPGA Tour, meanwhile, Stephanie Meadow tees it up in the Kia Classic in Carlsbad knowing she may need a top-20 finish at worst to qualify for next week's ANA Inspiration through the money list.

Elsewhere, Leona Maguire plays the Symetra Tour's IOA Championship at Morongo Casino Resort & Spa tomorrow with a new sponsor on her sleeve.

Fifth in her last start, the Co Cavan star and her twin sister Lisa have joined Dunne as ambassadors for wealth management providers Davy.

Belfast Telegraph