The No. 1 overall seed in the 2013 WGC-Accenture Match Play is going home as Rory McIlroy dropped his opening match to No. 16 seed Shane Lowry at Marana, Ariz.
Rory missed some short putts throughout the day, but his opponent got hot on the back nine. Lowry, who grew up in Ireland playing with and against McIlroy, chipped in on consecutive holes to move ahead of the No. 1 overall player in the world. Lowry then extended his margin on the next hole, the 13th, when he stuck his approach shot within five feet for an eagle putt. Remarkably, that eagle putt would be conceded after Rory sent his short birdie putt past the left edge of the cup. The three-hole stretch left Lowry with a two-hole lead and only five more chances for McIlroy to get things back to even.
It looked like the momentum swung back in McIlroy's favor on the 14th hole, when Lowry gave one back and showed some nerves when he missed a short putt. That cut the margin to just one, but Rory made an absolute mess of the next hole to push the lead back to two holes. McIlroy went off the course and into the sand and shrubs at the left side of the 15th green. The lie forced him to go left -anded, which, predictably, did not go well. He dribbled one into a greenside bunker and then followed that up by blasting a flyer sand shot some 20 yards over the green. That was that, and McIlroy walked off the hole, conceding it to Lowry before a putt was ever struck.
Rory did buckle down on the next hole, a par-3, and managed to cut the deficit back to one. He put his tee shot right on the corner of the green where the pin was located, and drained his birdie to make up for the disaster on the prior hole.
With darkness settling in, both players continued on to the 18th hole and decided to play on in the less than ideal conditions. Standing on the tee and needing only a halve, Lowry sent his drive into a fairway bunker which made it nearly impossible to get to the green. But Rory re-opened the door again, when he sent his approach shot into a greenside bunker. McIlroy nearly sank his sand shot, but could not pull things even as Lowry walked off with the 1-up win.
The underwhelming PGA Tour debut, combined with his Euro Tour debut last month, will prompt more questions about Rory's switch to Nike equipment. McIlroy shot back this week at critics and media members who questions his ability to make a smooth transition to the swoosh, but the first-round exit ensures those questions and comments will persist. Rory was more a victim of Lowry's hot streak on the back nine than some unsteady play with the new clubs. It was yet another display of the unpredictability of match play, and it was the fourth time the No. 1 overall seed has lost in the first round of this event.
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