ASH England (Reuters) - Henrik Stenson produced an inspired burst of scoring to earn his first victory at this week’s World Match Play Championship while Pablo Larrazabal won after staging a Houdini-like recovery on Thursday.
Defending champion Graeme McDowell suffered his first defeat as he went down 2 & 1 to Finn Mikko Ilonen in a sizzling encounter featuring 12 birdies.
McDowell’s Ryder Cup partner Victor Dubuisson recorded his second straight victory in the round-robin format by easing past Ireland’s Shane Lowry 3 & 2 while South African George Coetzee defeated last year’s runner-up Thongchai Jaidee 2 & 1.
Stenson, who finished all square with Coetzee on day one, was three down after four holes against Italian Francesco Molinari but the world number five turned the match around in spectacular fashion with six birdies and an eagle in the last nine holes.
The Swede is now level with Coetzee on three points, ahead of Thongchai (two) and Molinari (zero). The top two in each four-man group go through to Saturday’s quarter-finals.
“I had a rocky start and gave away a couple of early gifts,” Stenson told reporters at the London Club. “I didn’t give up though and then I started playing better and better.
“I was eight-under from the ninth hole onwards... I’ll take that. It was a good day especially considering I haven’t touched a club for two weeks coming here.”
Stephen Gallacher, who failed to win a point on his Ryder Cup debut last month, suffered a cruel fate in his match with Spaniard Larrazabal.
The odds on Gallacher securing his first win of the week were short when he was just off the green in two at the 18th while his opponent was lining up his fourth stroke from a hillock 30 yards from the putting surface.
Larrazabal then charged around the green like a man possessed after holing out for an unlikely birdie while Gallacher was unable to sink his putt for a matching four from 10 feet.
It was the second defeat in two days for the Scot and his hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages are over. Dubuisson leads the group on four points ahead of Lowry and Larrazabal who both have two.
“What happened at the last is typical match play golf,” said Gallacher. “He won the hole without having been on the fairway — I’m gutted to lose like that.
“Was I expecting him to hole his fourth shot? You expect opponents to hole everything in these situations. I’m eight-under for my two rounds but will be going home after my match against Victor.”
U.S. Ryder Cup player Patrick Reed, 2006 World Match Play champion Paul Casey, Swede Jonas Blixt and European Ryder Cup hero Jamie Donaldson are locked together on two points in their group.
Reed was four-under for his round as he eclipsed Casey 2 & 1 while Donaldson beat Blixt 3 & 2 with a five-birdie effort.
Dutchman Joost Luiten tops his group on four points after a run of five birdies in seven holes helped him overcome Frenchman Alexander Levy 4 & 3.
Ilonen is level with McDowell on two points after the Finn put the squeeze on the Northern Irishman with a flawless seven-birdie show.
“Mikko was the better player today, hats off to him,” said McDowell. “He played great and was tough to live with.”
Editing by Toby Davis