AUSTIN, Texas—Keegan Bradley extended his dubious streak to 16 matches over 11 years without winning in the Dell Technologies Match Play. He sure felt like a winner Wednesday.
Bradley was 4 down with five holes to play when he rallied to scratch out a halve against Denny McCarthy in the opening round at Austin Country Club.
“Gosh, that felt good,” Bradley said. “That was a grind. That has the possibility of going a long way, so I’m excited about it.”
Defending champion and top seed Scottie Scheffler missed two putts inside 5 feet over the last five holes before making a 12-footer for birdie on the 18th to beat Davis Riley in a rematch of their US Junior Amateur title match 10 years ago that Scheffler won.
Jon Rahm, the No. 2 seed, was the only player from the top four seeds to lose. Rickie Fowler took him down on the 17th hole, the first time Rahm has lost in the opening round.
Matt Kuchar, at 44 the oldest player in the field, outlasted Viktor Hovland and won his 35th match, one short of the career tournament record held by Tiger Woods. Rory McIlroy had a shorter shaft in his driver and a new putter, and both worked just fine in his 3-and-1 victory over Scott Stallings.
Nothing was decided Wednesday in the first of three rounds of group play. One player from each of the 16 groups will move on for the knockout stage on the weekend. But every point helps, and even a half-point felt big for Bradley.
He made his Match Play debut in 2012 by beating Geoff Ogilvy, who has the highest winning percentage (80%) in tournament history. That was Bradley’s last win. He has lost nine and halved seven matches since then, and it wasn’t without a fight. This was his 11th consecutive match dating to 2015 that it was decided on the 18th hole, lose or draw.
“Man, it was looking pretty bleak there for a while, but I just put my head down,” said Bradley, who drove into the water on the reachable par-4 13th to make bogey, going 4 down and running out of holes.
“I finally started hitting some good shots coming in, and it definitely paid off,” he said.
He won the 14th when McCarthy missed a 4-foot par putt. Bradley won the 15th with a birdie putt from 6 feet, the par-5 16th with a 6-foot eagle. After they halved the par-3 17th, Bradley hit wedge to 6 feet to win the last hole for a halve.
Adam Scott felt even better. He never led the entire match against Seamus Power until he made a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole.
“Just to win something feels good. I haven’t won anything in a long time,” said Scott, whose last Professional Golfers Association Tour victory was three years ago at Riviera.
Scheffler, who has won and lost in the championship match in his two appearances in the Match Play, never trailed against Riley. It was never easy, particularly the pillow fight that ensued at the end.
Scheffler drove to the edge of the green on the 13th and made a 25-foot eagle putt for a 2-up lead that seemingly put him in control. But then he hooked his next tee shot into the Colorado River and still had a chance to halve the hole until missing a five-foot putt.
The Masters champion missed a 10-footer on the 15th. Riley had a chance to square the match on the 16th until he missed a 3-foot putt. Scheffler returned the favor when he missed a 3-footer on the 17th that would have closed out the match.
With Riley just 8 feet away for a birdie attempt on the 18th, Scheffler made his 12-footer and gave a light fist pump and a big sigh of relief.
“I’m going to remember the putt on the last hole and take that energy into tomorrow,” Scheffler said.
A long day offered plenty of great shots, from J.J. Spaun holing out from the 13th fairway during his win over US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick to Jordan Spieth ending his match by chipping in for birdie from a squirrelly lie to beat Mackenzie Hughes, 4 and 3.
Kuchar would not even be eligible for the 64-man field if not for nine LIV Golf players being ineligible. Now he is taking aim at Woods, who was 36-12 with three titles. Kuchar won the opening three holes and then had to hang on against Hovland, the No. 8 seed who made too many mistakes to catch up.
“I’ve been out here a while,” said Kuchar, whose Match Play record improved to 35-11-4. “Any time you’re in a conversation with Tiger Woods, this is a very cool thing.”
McIlroy has struggled with the driver this year, so he went to a 44-inch shaft that was slightly softer (he was at 44 1/2 inches) to get more spin. He also had a replica putter similar to the one he used to win his first two majors a decade ago.
“I needed to go to a slightly softer shaft and I can hit more shots with it and feel a bit more comfortable,” he said. “So it was good to see. It was good to put it in play today and have to perform pretty well. Drove it well, especially on the back nine.
“Obviously this part of the season you’ve got one eye on what you’re doing now and one eye on Augusta.”