Rafa Cabrera Bello maintained his consistent 2018 form with an opening day 2 and 1 victory over Satoshi Kodaira at the WGC – Dell Technologies Match Play.
The Spaniard has registered three top ten finishes from his four European Tour events this season, including tied for second at the UBS Hong Kong Open in November and tied for third in the first World Golf Championships in Mexico earlier this month, and controlled proceedings against the Japanese.
Cabrera Bello was unbeaten in his maiden Ryder Cup appearance two years ago when he collected two and a half points from his three matches and he produced another solid match play performance with the biennial event on the horizon.
The World Number 21 opened up with a bogey but it was good enough to take the lead after Kodaira needed a drop after finding the trees with his second shot before four successive pars.
Cabrera Bello was inches away from registering an eagle at the sixth to extend his lead, but he gave that back at the ninth when he went out of bounds and when Kodaira birdied the tenth, it was all square.
However, successive gains at the 12th and 13th put the Spaniard two up with four to play and despite Kodaira halving the deficit with a par at the 15th, Cabrera Bello followed suit at the next before seeing out the victory.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat showed why he is a dangerous player in match play as he defeated American Chez Reavie 3 and 2 in his first tie at Austin Country Club.
The Thai’s last two European Tour victories have come in this format, including his ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth success in January, which consisted of both stroke play and match play.
Aphibarnrat never trailed in his Group 3 match and took the lead at the fourth when Reavie two-putted from four feet, but the American hit back with a birdie at the next.
Back-to-back gains at the sixth and seventh moved Aphibarnrat two up at the turn but Reavie picked up another shot at the tenth to cut the lead to one, which remained until the 14th when the Thai golfer’s par was enough to lead by two before sealing the win with a birdie at the 16th.
“I just want to focus on my own game,” he said. “Today I didn’t play my A game but if I can bring it out tomorrow and Friday it will make it easier to get into the bracket.”
Rory McIlroy reeled off five successive birdies as he mounted a remarkable comeback after being five down standing on the 14th tee before Peter Uihlein made a par at the penultimate hole to secure a shock 2 and 1 victory in Group 6.
Today I didn’t play my A game but if I can bring it out tomorrow and Friday it will make it easier to get into the bracket – Kiradech Aphibarnrat
“I made him earn it at least,” said McIlroy. “I made the scoreline a little more respectable. I didn’t really necessarily play badly. He played pretty well.”
European Tour Member Julian Suri made the most of his late inclusion to the line-up to mark his World Golf Championships debut with a 3 and 2 win against Marc Leishman in his Group 11 clash.
The American, who was drafted in on Monday after Joost Luiten withdrew with a wrist injury, was ahead throughout the match, despite recording just three birdies in his 16 holes, but his consistency proved invaluable in his flawless first round-robin victory.
He was two up after two as Leishman carded successive bogeys and although he pulled one back with a birdie at sixth, another dropped shot by the Australian saw Suri regain his two-hole advantage at the eighth.
Leishman hit a birdie at the turn to trail by one but birdies at the 12th and 13th moved Suri three up before the duo traded gains at the 15th and 16th to finish the match.
“I like to think I play my best with a little chip on my shoulder,” said Suri. “A lot of people are saying congrats on being in the field. I don’t think in any other tournament they would say congrats on being in the field. Obviously I was the last-minute addition, I get that.
“I wanted to get off to a good start and I played really solid today.”
Jon Rahm won the final hole to earn half a point with Keegan Bradley as he responded strongly after letting a three up lead slip through four holes.
A birdie-birdie-par-birdie start saw the Spaniard race ahead but Bradley hit back with a par and a gain at the sixth and seventh to cut the gap to one. A par moved Rahm back to two up at the eighth before the American started the back nine with eagle-birdie-birdie to turn the match on its head and lead one up.
Bradley won the 15th with a par to go two up, only to hand one back at the next with a bogey before a wayward tee-shot and approach handed Rahm a lifeline to halve their match, which he did with a closing gain.
South African Branden Grace suffered the heaviest defeat of the day as he came up against an in-form Bubba Watson, who hit 28 on the front nine to claim a 5 and 3 win in the other Group 11 match.
Charles Howell III defeated Phil Mickelson in a 3 and 2 success in Group 14, while Brian Harman and Jhonattan Vegas halved their Group 6 match.