Debutant Russell Knox dug deep to secure a halved match on the opening day of the WGC-Dell Match Play in Texas as world No 2 Jason Day suffered an injury scare with The Masters looming.
Knox, the sole Scot in the 64-man field at Austin Country Club, holed a 15-foot birdie putt down the slope at the par-3 17th as he finished all square with Swede David Lingmerth.
Bidding to follow up his title triumph in the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai last November, Knox won the opening hole with a par-4 before conceding the third and then falling behind as Lingmerth eagled the long sixth.
The Scot squared the match again with a birdie at the ninth before twice falling a hole behind on the back nine but showed grit and determination to avoid defeat.
In the other match in Knox’s group, American Chris Kirk beat South African Branden Grace 3&1.
A fortnight before The Masters, Day suffered an unwanted injury scare as the US PGA champion hurt his back in beating Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell.
The Australian had looked to be struggling a bit for a few holes before dropping to one knee after hitting his tee shot at the 16th, where he closed out a 3 and 2 victory.
Day, the 2014 winner, politely declined a television interview before heading to the on-site physio truck for treatment.
“He grabbed his back and said, ‘Oh, I just tweaked it,’” Day’s coach and caddie, Colin Swatton, said in quotes reported by GolfChannel.com.
“Up until that point, there was nothing. He’s been great all year. Just out of the blue. I don’t know if it was one swing or what it was.”
Day’s manager, Bud Martin, later issued a statement saying the US PGA champion was hopeful of playing on.
“Jason tweaked his back on hole No.15 and had some work done post-round,” Martin confirmed. “He is pleased with the outcome of the match and is getting prepared to play tomorrow.”
Fresh from winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando on Sunday, Day had overcome an early two-hole deficit to come out on top against McDowell, who is no slouch in head-to-head golf.
The Northern Irishman clinched victory for Europe in the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor before beating Jordan Spieth in the top singles at Gleneagles four years later.
“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 the match, but it does put a salty edge in it for me,” joked McDowell. “Go down six holes ago if you’re going.”
World No 1 and Texas native Spieth beat Jamie Donaldson, Europe’s match-winning hero in the aforementioned Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, 3&2.
“Very solid playing on a day of a gusting winds,” said Spieth, who practised on this course when he was at the University of Texas.
Two down with four to play, defending champion Rory McIlroy took advantage of a late meltdown from Dane Thorbjorn Olesen to win by one hole.
The world No 3 got his nose in front for the first time at the last, where Olesen shanked a chip after missing a short putt two holes earlier.
“I feel fortunate,” admitted McIlroy. “I feel a bit bad for Thorbjorn as he played solid and opened the door for me with a bad finish. I was a bit flat on the front nine but played some good golf coming in.”
Other opening-day winners included Phil Mickleson, Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel and Jason Dufner, the latter beating Scottish Open champion Rickie Fowler 2&1 in an all-American clash.
Mickelson may have laid down an early marker for this year’s Ryder Cup after the left-hander thumped young Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick 5&4 while Garcia came out on top in a ding-dong battle with Lee Westwood.
“It was very funny, up-and-down match,” said the Spaniard of a contest that included just three halved holes and also saw him call a penalty on himself when his ball moved at the 13th. “I was happy to get the win.”
Schwartzel, who recently chalked up his third triumph of the 2016 campaign, never trailed as he beat New Zealander Danny Lee on the last green. “At one stage I was playing really solid, and it was sort of felt like I was in control of the game,” said Schwartzel. “But Danny made a really good comeback and I’m just happy I hit some good shots coming in.”
On a day when players and caddies were wearing black ribbons in tribute to the victims of the terrorist attacks in Brussels, Belgian Thomas Pieters came from two down with three to play to finish all square with Adam Scott.
(USA unless stated)
Brandt Snedeker bt Charley Hoffman 2&1
Charl Schwartzel (Rsa) bt Danny Lee (Nzl) 1up
Jason Day (Aus) bt Graeme McDowell (Nirl) 3&2
Paul Casey (Eng) lost to Thongchai Jaidee (Tha) 2&1
Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn) lost to Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spa) 1 down
Kevin Kisner bt Soren Kjeldsen (Den) 2&1
Rickie Fowler lost to Jason Dufner 2&1
Byeong-Hun An (Kor) halved with Scott Piercy
Sergio Garcia (Spa) bt Lee Westwood (Eng) 1up
Marc Leishman (Aus) halved with Ryan Moore
J.B. Holmes lost to Emiliano Grillo (Arg) 3&2
Phil Mickelson bt Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng) 5&4
Bubba Watson halved with Patton Kizzire
Patrick Reed bt Daniel Berger 1up
Dustin Johnson lost to Robert Streb 3&2
Jimmy Walker lost to Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha) 2&1
Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa) bt Matt Jones (Aus) 2&1
Andy Sullivan (Eng) bt Bernd Wiesberger (Aut) 3&2
Jordan Spieth bt Jamie Donaldson (Wal) 3&2
Justin Thomas lost to Victor Dubuisson (Fra) 3&2
Branden Grace (Rsa) lost to Chris Kirk 3&1
Russell Knox (Sco) halved with David Lingmerth (Swe)
Bill Haas bt Chris Wood (Eng) 2&1
Zach Johnson bt Marcus Fraser (Aus) 4&3
Adam Scott (Aus) halved with Thomas Pieters (Bel)
Shane Lowry (Irl) lost to Martin Kaymer (Ger) 1 down
Rory McIlroy (Nirl) bt Thorbjorn Olesen (Den) 1 up
Matt Kuchar bt Anirban Lahiri (Ind) 6&5
Kevin Na bt Smylie Kaufman 2&1
Brooks Koepka bt Billy Horshel 3&2
Danny Willett (Eng) halved with Jaco Van Zyl (Rsa)
Justin Rose (Eng) bt Fabien Gomez (Arg) two holes