Russell Knox tops his group heading into the final batch of round-robin games in the WGC-Dell Match Play after negotiating the opening two days with an unbeaten record in Texas.
The 30-year-old followed up his halved match against Swede David Lingmerth on Wednesday with a 2 and 1 triumph over American Chris Kirk on the second day’s action at Austin Country Club.
It puts Knox, winner of the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai last November but making his debut in this event, in pole position as he faces South African Branden Grace in his last group match on Friday.
Only the group winners progress to the last 16, with Knox set to face either Adam Scott or Bill Haas if he makes it through.
“I played much better yesterday, to be honest, but my chipping and putting saved me and I managed to grind out a win,” said Knox.
The Scot admitted he was delighted to “control the group”, knowing another win will see him progress no matter what happens between Kirk and Lingmerth, but predicted a “brutal day” for himself against Grace.
“Branden is the top seed in our group, so on paper he’s the best player,” commented the Jacksonville Beach-based player.
“It’s going to be a tough match and I’m going to have to play probably better than I did today. Hopefully I can do that.”
Knox, who reckoned he’d “dodged a bullet” against Lingmerth, lost the opening two holes to Kirk, a 3&1 first-day winner over world No 12 Grace.
The Scot was still trailing before turning the contest on its head by chipping in for a half at the eighth then winning three holes in a row straight afterwards to go two up.
Kirk, a four-time PGA Tour winner, then won the 13th with a par-4 before Knox restored his two-hole advantage with a birdie at the long 16th then closed the match out with a two-putt par at the next.
“The chip-in was a huge turning point in the match,” he admitted. “I played a lot of match-play growing up and I love it.”
Reminded of his WGC victory last year, Knox added: “Winning is an amazing feeling. It makes up for all the times you mess up.
“Obviously we are a long way away from winning (here) but it was a great result today and I’m looking forward to the challenge (tomorrow).”
Grace, the top seed in the group, kept his hopes of progressing alive with a 4&3 win over Lingmerth, who was always fighting a losing battle after finding himself two down after two.
World No 1 Jordan Spieth made it two wins out of two with a thumping 5&4 victory over Frenchman Victor Dubuisson, the 2014 runner-up.
Defending champion Rory McIlroy also maintained his 100 per cent record as he recovered from one down with six to play to beat young American Smylie Kaufman 3&1.
“I still had a couple of mistakes in there but I played much better today and needed it,” said the four-time major winner.
McIlroy, the world No 3, has now won 15 of his last 18 matches in this event. He will face Kevin Na in a group decider after the American also recorded a second success.
Jason Day, the world No 2, injured himself on Wednesday but was back firing on all cylinders as he beat Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee 5&3 for his second win of the event.
Day, who’d required treatment on his back on Wednesday, set up that triumph by hitting his driver on the 381-yard opening hole to 12 feet and knocking in the putt for an eagle to win the hole.
“I was a little sore but it definitely got a lot better,” said Day of his back afterwards.
Open champion Zach Johnson recorded the biggest win of the event so far - a thumping 8&6 triumph over Martin Kaymer.
(USA unless stated)
Sergio Garcia (Spa) lost to Ryan Moore 1 down
Marc Leishman (Aus) lost to Lee Westwood (Eng) 1 down
Bubba Watson bt Emiliano Grillo (Arg) 2 up
Patrick Reed bt Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng) 4&3
J.B. Holmes halved with Patton Kizzire
Dustin Johnson bt Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha) 5&4
Jimmy Walker bt Robert Streb 4&3
Jordan Spieth bt Victor Dubuisson (Fra) 5&4
Andy Sullivan (Eng) bt Matt Jones (Aus) 3&1
Zach Johnson bt Martin Kaymer (Ger) 8&6
Phil Mickelson bt Daniel Berger 1 up
Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa) bt Bernd Wiesberger (Aut) 2&1
Branden Grace (Rsa) bt David Lingmerth (Swe) 4&3
Russell Knox (Sco) bt Chris Kirk 2&1
Adam Scott (Aus) bt Chris Wood (Eng) 3&2
Bill Haas bt Thomas Pieters (Bel) 4&2
Shane Lowry (Irl) halved with Marcus Fraser (Aus)
Rory McIlroy (Nirl) bt Smylie Kaufman 3&1
Justin Thomas lost to Jamie Donaldson (Wal) 2up
Kevin Na bt Thorbjorn Olesen (Den) 3&2
Danny Willett (Eng) lost to Billy Horschel 3&2
Brooks Koepka bt Jaco Van Zyl (Rsa) 5&4
Justin Rose (Eng) halved with Anirban Lahiri (Ind)
Matt Kuchar halved with Fabian Gomez (Arg)
Brandt Snedeker halved with Danny Lee (Nzl)
Charl Schwartzel (Rsa) bt Charley Hoffman 3&2
Jason Day (Aus) bt Thongchai Jaidee (Tha) 5&3
Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn) bt Soren Kjeldsen (Den) 4&2
Kevin Kisner lost to Rafa Cabrera Bello (Spa) 4&3
Paul Casey (Eng) halved with Graeme McDowell (Nirl)