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In WGC Match Play, Americans show they’ve still got it

World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play - Round Two
American Russell Henley hits his approach toward the 12th hole Thursday in the WGC Match Play at Austin (Texas) Country Club, with the Pennybacker Bridge spanning the Colorado River in the background. Henley defeated France's Victor Perez, 4 and 3.

Kevin Kisner and Matt Kuchar pull off upsets, setting up their showdown Friday and sending signal to PGA Tour’s youngsters

With so much twentysomething talent on the PGA Tour these days, the 2021 U.S. Ryder Cup team likely will be infused with a lot of new blood.

Yet, a couple of veteran touring pros are showing that they know how to win in the match-play format. Kevin Kisner and Matt Kuchar, who rank far down the U.S. Ryder Cup standings ahead of this fall’s matches, won their second consecutive matches Thursday at the WGC Match Play in Austin, Texas.

Granted, they might not be on captain Steve Stricker’s short list, but there’s no denying their prowess in the man-on-man events. Kisner knocked off Justin Thomas, 2 and 1, and Kuchar dispatched Louis Oosthuizen, 1 up, in matches that went to clear underdogs. Kisner, seeded 34th, sent the No. 2-seeded Thomas to a second consecutive defeat while running his record this week to 2-0 at Austin Country Club. Kuchar, seeded 52nd, relegated the No. 22 Oosthuizen to an 0-2 start and a certain early exit, as well.

Only two other Americans have gone 2-0: Patrick Cantlay and Ryan Palmer.

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.

Kisner, 37, has won only three times on the PGA Tour, but one of those victories was at the 2019 WGC Match Play, which, because of COVID-19's effect on last season's schedule, makes him the defending champion. Kuchar, 42, is a nine-time winner on the PGA Tour, including the 2013 Match Play.

Kuchar, like so many of the 21st-century American Ryder Cup veterans, has compiled a losing record in the biennial matches against the Europeans: 6-7-2 in four appearances, three of which were team losses. Kisner has not played in the Ryder Cup, but he clearly gears up for match play.

“I really enjoy the one-on-one competitive nature of the event,” Kisner said. “I really like knowing what I have to do on every shot compared to a four-day event.”

Kisner won the second hole with a par and never trailed against Thomas, stretching his lead to 4 up with a par at the par-3 seventh hole. Thomas won three consecutive holes on the back nine, two with birdies, to trim the deficit to 1 up before Kisner got the match to dormie with a birdie at the par-5 16th.

“You’ve got to grind all 18 holes,” said Kisner, who has won eight consecutive matches at this event, “and that keeps my head in the game.”

Kuchar emerged from a back-and-forth match in which he trailed on two separate occasions on the front nine. The match hit a low point when they halved the 11th with double bogeys, and it was tied heading to the 13th tee. Kuchar regained the momentum with two consecutive birdies to go 2 up.

“Every hole has a higher level of intensity than stroke play,” Kuchar said. “Every hole feels like it's the last hole of the tournament. And so, the level of intensity is always much higher, and you always go back to the room ready to have a good night's rest, for sure.”

On Friday, his third match likely won’t get any easier. He will face another undefeated American: Kisner. The winner will advance out of their Group 2 to the Round of 16.

For complete results from the second day, click here.

For tee times of Friday’s third day of round-robin play, click here.

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