Watch: Rory McIlroy drubbed by Ian Poulter at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play

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Tim Schmitt
·3 min read
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AUSTIN, Texas — Standing on the 12th tee with a picturesque view of the iconic Pennybacker Bridge, Ian Poulter watched his drive safely hit the fairway, flipped his driver, grinned and let out a giggle.

Why wouldn’t the typically jovial Poulter be beaming? He stood 3 up in his opening match of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play event, in firm control despite coming into Wednesday as a decided underdog.

His opponent, World No. 11 Rory McIlroy, wasn’t sharing Poulter’s chipper disposition.

Just days after a report that he’d added coach Pete Cowen to his team in an effort to right a struggling ship, McIlroy looked out of sorts again at Austin Country Club.

Despite booming drives that consistently rolled well past Poulter’s, McIlroy fell 6 and 5 in an uninspiring showing that put him in a tough spot with two round-robin matches remaining.

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For McIlroy, it’s been a roller coaster of sorts through the past few months. The former World No. 1 isn’t in a slump, per se, but he certainly isn’t in complete control of his game like he once was. McIlroy has four top 20 finishes in six starts this season, but he’s missed a pair of cuts, the most recent at the Players Championship. He also posted a final-round 76 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational while firmly in the hunt.

And he continued his erratic play through the early portion of Wednesday’s round, first three-putting from inside 20 feet on the fourth hole, then finding water in the most unconventional way on the following hole — by bouncing a tee shot off a cart path and into a swimming pool.

Poulter said he expects McIlroy to improve under Cowen’s eye, but he was happy to apply some pressure to his friend and earn the victory.

“Obviously, Pete’s going to be working exclusively with Rory on his game. I think there’s a couple of areas of his game which I’m sure he wants to kind of firm up a little bit and obviously, he missed a couple of tee shots left. From that point, he was trying to hit a kind of a bit of a hold-up cut,” Poulter said of his friend. “But it’s Rory, it doesn’t take a lot for Rory to spark up pretty quickly and I wasn’t surprised with anything, I just felt that I kind of, I had done a pretty decent job of putting him under pressure, I made it difficult for him.”

Meanwhile, Poulter arrived in Austin fresh off missing two straight cuts and without a top 25 finish this season. The 60th seed looked confident, however, as he took advantage of all McIlroy’s early mistakes.

“I played well and obviously the score line’s pretty flattering, to be honest with you. But I kept Rory under pressure and I made it difficult for him,” Poulter said. “Yeah, he hit a couple of loose shots, but putting the ball in pretty tight and taking control of a match, I had to do that against Rory.”