News & Opinion

Rory McIlroy finds he’s no match for Ian Poulter

Rory McIlroy at 2021 WGC Match Play
Rory McIlroy faces an early exit from the WGC Match Play in Austin, Texas.

Europe’s Ryder Cup heart buries higher-ranked Northern Irishman, 6 and 5, giving him a taste of what U.S. endures every 2 years

The beauty of the revised format at the WGC Match Play – if you’re one of those golf fans who likes to see the PGA Tour stars hang around for at least three days – is that Rory McIlroy isn’t out of it.

He just looked that way Wednesday.

McIlroy endured a 6-and-5 drubbing at the hands of Ian Poulter, a European Ryder Cup teammate better known for knocking off American opponents in the head-to-head format, on the opening day of the WGC Match Play at Austin (Texas) Country Club.

The first three days consist of round-robin play among 16 four-man groups, with one point for a victory and a half-point for a tie. Each group champion will advance to the Round of 16 on Saturday morning at the $10.5 million event. From there, single-elimination matches will determine the champion late Saturday and the $1.82 million first-place prize. So, mathematically, McIlroy still has a chance, but he will need some help and a quick turnaround.

McIlroy bolted from the course Wednesday without speaking with the media, but really, what was there to say? The scorecard spoke clearly enough: McIlroy was down after the first hole, had shown few signs of life and had lost the last five holes in a match that ended on the 13th green.

Poulter, the No. 60-seeded player in the 64-man event, holed a 6-foot birdie putt on the first hole and never trailed the 11th-seeded McIlroy, a four-time major champion. Poulter was 3 up through five holes. After McIlroy trimmed the deficit with birdies on Nos. 6 and 8, Poulter won the ninth hole with an 8½-foot birdie putt to go 2 up, then won the next four holes to win in a rout.

“I played well, and obviously the scoreline's pretty flattering, to be honest with you,” Poulter said. “But I kept Rory under pressure, and I made it difficult for him. Yeah, he hit a couple of loose shots, but putting the ball in pretty tight and taking control of a match, I had to do that against Rory.”

It was McIlroy’s worst loss in this event since 2011, when Ben Crane defeated him, 8 and 7, in the second round at Dove Mountain in Arizona.

2021 WGC Match Play
The WGC Match Play at Austin (Texas) Country Club, set along the banks of the Colorado River and Lake Austin.

Poulter, 45, of England, tapped his deep reservoir of match-play knowledge from the biennial Ryder Cups, during which he provided much of the spark as Europe won five of six matches with Poulter on the team. McIlroy benefitted from that tenacity as a teammate against the Americans, but he was the one with his neck under Poulter’s foot this time.

“I wasn't surprised with anything,” said Poulter, who owns a 14-6-2 record in the Ryder Cup and is the 2010 WGC Match Play champion. “I just felt that I kind of, I had done a pretty decent job of putting him under pressure. I made it difficult for him.”

For complete results from the first day, click here.

For tee times of Thursday’s second day of round-robin play, click here.

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