Golf could have a new World No.1 come Sunday after defending champion Luke Donald was knocked out of the WGC-Matchplay Championship by Ernie Els.
Donald’s 5&4 drubbing by the South African now means Lee Westwood or Rory McIlroy will replace him at the rankings’ summit should they win in Arizona.
The Ulsterman didn’t look at his best as he eventually scraped a 2-up victory over George Coetzee, while Englishman Westwood eased past Nicholas Colsaerts 3&1.
But it was a day to forget for Donald. Last year, the 34-year-old made history at this event and still hasn’t reached the 18th hole yet as his opponent wrapped it up as early as the 14th.
“I’m not sure where to start,” said a disappointed Donald, who is only the third top seed to lose in the event’s opening round. “I just didn’t play very well. It’s disappointing.
“I gave away too many holes and made too many mistakes. You can’t do that in match play against anyone, let alone Ernie.”
Added Els: “There’s always hype when the No.1 player is playing the No.64 seed, but Luke and I took it for what it was.
“I don’t think he wanted to play me and I sure as hell didn’t want to play him in the first round, but that’s the way it worked out.”
2010 champion Ian Poulter is another bitterly disappointed Englishman, the renowned matchplay specialist tanked 4&3 by Bae Sang-moon.
“We both made our share of mistakes, there’s no doubt about that, but somehow I was able to move on,” Woods said.
Charl Schwartzel, the reigning Masters champion, eased past big-hitting American Gary Woodland 4&2 and World No.4 German Martin Kaymer thumped Australian left-hander Greg Chalmers 4&2 to join the 32 winners who advanced to Thursday’s second round.
Dustin Johnson prevailed in a 20-hole scrap with compatriot Jim Furyk, while YE Yang beat Graeme McDowell in the opening match of the day.
“I ran into a man who played extremely well,” admitted the Northern Irishman. “I felt like I had to follow him all day long, and I did most of the day, but he didn’t put a foot wrong.”
Teenagers Ryo Ishikawa and Matteo Manassero are both through. The Japanese wunderkind came back from being 3-down after 13 holes to win 1-up against last week’s winner Bill Haas, while the Italian never trailed on his way to a solid 3&2 upset over Webb Simpson.