The red danger line and pillow fights highlight the start of match play

AUSTIN, TX – Golf’s most capricious tournament delivered its usual dose of oddities Wednesday in the Dell Technologies Match Play, including the fortunes of Maverick McNealy.

Last man to enter the field of 64 players, he was the first to conclude his match.

McNealy, who only played in his first world golf championship when Sam Burns decided to retire after winning Sunday at Innisbrook, tied for the third-shortest game in tournament history with a rout 8 and 6 against Riviera winner Joaquin Niemann.

“I was home last week really hoping for a chance to play, preparing like I was going to get a chance to play,” McNealy said. “And had a great game today, for sure.”

He had 4 under through seven holes and already 5 against Niemann, and McNealy closed it on the 12th hole when the Chilean conceded his 18-foot birdie putt.

It wasn’t technically the shortest match of the day. No one had it easier than Corey Conners, who played just two holes when Paul Casey had a back spasm and conceded the match. Casey remained in Match Play, hoping to play his next two matches.

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Six of the top eight seeds won their opener, while Patrick Cantlay earned a half against Keith Mitchell when both missed birdie putts within 10-foot range on the final hole. The exception was Justin Thomas, who birdied just one after the first hole and lost, 3-2, to Luke List, who was 1-5 in that tournament.

Wins and losses were secondary to the bizarre circumstances of a sprinkler head.

Thomas Pieters of Belgium hit a long pitch down the slope of the 13th green and into the water when he settled into a sprinkler head. It looked like a good break except his ball touched the red paint on the danger line, so no clearance was given.

All he could do was hit with a sand wedge in frustration – Tom Hoge had already birdied – although that ended well when Pieters won the match.

An hour later, Bryson DeChambeau was there – and he was given a free drop.

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A change in the decision can only happen in this format because it is not players against the full court, but rather players going against each other. Each game is its own tournament.

Chief umpire Gary Young said the red paint is meant to go around the sprinklers. In this case, he hit the side. Once the managers realized the problem, they went to redo the paint. He said the crew was en route when DeChambeau’s chip landed in the same watering hole.

The official was tasked with providing relief.

“Two wrongs do not make a right. Making the correction before Bryson’s game got there was important,” Young said.

DeChambeau, playing for the first time since Feb. 4 at Saudi International due to left hand and left hip injuries, ended up halving his match with Richard Bland. It wasn’t pretty. Five holes were halved with bogeys.

“I know I can play golf. It’s first and foremost,” DeChambeau told Golf Channel. “I don’t have to do it with one hand all day. Although I was very careful. There were a lot of rides there, I felt really bad because it’s not going where I want it to go just because I’m not sure how my wrist will go through it. It will get better with time.”

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His match wasn’t the only pillow fight.

Jordan Spieth halved a hole after hitting his tee shot into the water on the 13th, only because Keegan Bradley’s chip behind the green entered the water. Spieth took his first lead on the par-5 16th when Bradley’s second shot went off a hill and out of bounds.

But it was a win for Spieth, as it was for Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland, neither of whom were thrilled with the way they played except for the result.

Scottie Scheffler, the No. 5 seed, had reason to be happy to have passed match play magician Ian Poulter for the second time in as many years. He beat Poulter in 14 holes in the fourth round a year ago as he headed to the championship game. This one went to the 17th, a match in which only three holes were halved.

“I was technically the highest seeded against the lowest seeded in my group today, but if you look at the game odds, I’m sure they probably weren’t a crazy disparity. on who was supposed to win this game,” Scheffler said. “You never really know what’s going to happen in this tournament, so I don’t think the ranking is too important.”

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But he is making a reputation, especially against the Europeans. Including the Ryder Cup, Scheffler has now beaten Poulter twice and Jon Rahm twice in the past year.

Kevin Kisner, who won Match Play and was runner-up, had no problem against Marc Leishman to win his 17th match at Austin Country Club, the most of them all.

The round-robin format among the 16 groups of four players resumes on Thursday and Friday, with the winner of each group advancing to the knockout stage at the weekend.

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