Johannesburg – Four of the seven South African participants bowed out on the first day of the Match Play Championship, a World Golf Championship event in Marana, Arizona, on Friday (SA time).
Ernie Els, Branden Grace, George Coetzee and Charl Schwartzel were all knocked out at the first hurdle of the weather affected tournament.
There were positives, however, for the SA contingent, with Louis Oosthuizen, Tim Clark and Richard Sterne progressing to the second round of the match play competition which invites the top 64 ranked players in the world.
Oosthuizen was one-down for most of his match before losing the par-five 11th hole to go two-down against Richie Ramsay of Scotland. The 2010 Open champion then rallied to win the next four holes in a row to go two-up, and he finished a two-and-one victor on the 17th.
“I just couldn't really get going, couldn't make putts for birdies, and then had a good run from 12 to 15, taking four in a row,” Oosthuizen said.
“I had a little putt on 16 to win, but yeah, all in all, very happy. A bit of a shaky start, but I felt like I kept it together at the end.”
Ooshuizen said he battled on the greens, but found composure down the stretch.
“I struggled with the speed on the greens. They were still really slick, and I just left myself with loads of five-footers, four-footers to halve holes.
“But all in all, the last seven holes I played really nicely.”
Sterne was never down in his match against fancied American Jason Dufner, and was four-up after 11 holes. Dufner staged a comeback to get back to one-down, but Sterne was able to hold out for the one-up win on 18.
“Match play is a strange game, and it showed today,” Sterne said.
“I was four-up, and then suddenly I was struggling to finish the match off.
“That just shows you a few birdies at the right time for somebody else can put a lot of pressure on.”
Clark, meanwhile, had an up-and-down match against Australian Adam Scott, and it was a tight affair. Clark was quickly two-up after three, but by the eighth Scott had pulled it back to be one-up.
The pair traded wins around the turn to make it to the last six holes all square.
Clark made a crucial putt on the 16th to win the hole, and when Scott missed a putt on 17, it gave the South African a two-and-one victory.
Schwartzel provided the big upset for the SA contingent, losing one-down to American Russell Henley. Schwartzel struggled to gain the ascendancy and was never up in the match, despite bringing it back to all square after 11 holes.
Els had a roller-coaster round against Swede putting ace Fredrik Jacobson. The 'Big Easy' was out to a two-up advantage after five, but Jacobson brought it back to all square around the turn.
Despite holing a good length putt to square the match on 15, Jacobson was able to hold his nerve and win the 18th for a narrow one-up victory.
Coetzee put in a good performance before going down to former world number one Martin Kaymer of Germany two-and-one.
Grace looked out of sorts as he crashed to a four-and-three defeat to American Robert Garrigus. – Sapa