US second seed Justin Thomas and fourth seed Collin Morikawa were eliminated from the WGC Match Play Championship with losses on Thursday while top-ranked Dustin Johnson halved and Rory McIlroy won to sustain his title hopes.
Johnson, the reigning Masters champion, tied Scottish 41st seed Robert MacIntyre as they shared their group lead after the second of three round-robin sessions in the 64-player event at Austin (Texas) Country Club before weekend knockout rounds.
"Ended up making a really good halve," Johnson said. "Definitely pleased with it."
Johnson plays eliminated US 28th seed Kevin Na on Friday while MacIntyre faces US 61st seed Adam Long with huge confidence.
"World number one, he had to work his very best in the end to match me," MacIntyre said. "And that's something I can be proud of."
Kevin Kisner, the defending champion from his 2019 victory after Covid-19 wiped out last year's event, beat Thomas 2&1 while Matt Kuchar defeated South African Louis Oosthuizen 1 up, setting up a 2019 final rematch to decide who advances from the group.
"I owe Kevin Kisner a bit of revenge," Kuchar said. "Pars aren't going to win holes against Kevin Kisner. I've got my work cut out for me for sure."
Morikawa, the 2020 PGA Championship winner, lost 2&1 to US 35th seed Max Homa while US 63rd seed JT Poston beat US 32nd seed Billy Horschel 4&2, ensuring Morikawa can't catch both Homa and Poston.
McIlroy, thumped 6&5 by Ian Poulter on day one, bounced back to beat US 46th seed Lanto Griffin 4&3, sending the 11th seed from Northern Ireland into his final match with a chance.
"It was big. Winning the match keeps me in the tournament and gives me a hope," McIlroy said. "I played solid, kept it in play and made some putts when it mattered."
McIlroy, a four-time major winner from Northern Ireland seeking a career Grand Slam at next month's Masters, said he feels golf is asking more questions of him than usual.
"I feel like it's testing me a little more than it has done in the past few years," he said. "I feel like the only thing I can do is put my head down and do the work and trust in the process."
To have a chance to advance, McIlroy must beat Australian 25th seed Cameron Smith and have Griffin beat English 60th seed Ian Poulter, who defeated Smith 1 up on a 15-foot birdie putt at the 18th to start 2-0.
"It was really nice to roll that putt in at the last and get that done," Poulter said. "That would have been quite frustrating to have given half a point away there, being 3-up with three to play."
Another longshot, South African 64th seed Dylan Frittelli, beat US 29th seed Jason Kokrak 3&2 for a 2-0 start.
"I guess I've just proven I can beat the guys that are in front of me," Frittelli said. "I feel like no matter who it is as my opposition I can beat those guys."
On Wednesday, Frittelli had thumped US 12th seed Tony Finau 6&5.
US fifth seed Bryson DeChambeau, the reigning US Open champion, beat 45th seed Kim Si-woo of South Korea 2&1 to keep alive his chances to advance. he must beat 15th-seeded English group leader Tommy Fleetwood on Friday.
"Nice situation to be in," Fleetwood said. "Have to control my game and see what he can do. Bryson has been smashing it... it'll just be nice to go toe-to-toe with him and see what we can do."
Spanish 39th seed Sergio Garcia improved to 2-0 by beating Tyrrell Hatton 3&2, eliminating the English eighth seed from title contention.
Mexican 27th seed Abraham Ancer was 2-0 after beating US 53rd seed Kevin Streelman 2&1 to eliminate Norwegian 13th seed Viktor Hovland.
Spanish third seed Jon Rahm improved to 2-0 by beating Irish 38th seed Shane Lowry 2 up. He faces 2-0 US 24th seed Ryan Palmer next to decide who advances.
Results from Thursday's second day of group matches at the WGC Match Play Championship at Austin Country Club (x denotes seed):
Dustin Johnson (USA x1) and Robert Mcintyre (SCO x41) halved
Adam Long (USA x61) bt Kevin Na (USA x28) 2&1
Kevin Kisner (USA x34) bt Justin Thomas (USA x2) 2&1
Matt Kuchar (USA x52) bt Louis Oosthuizen (RSA x22) 1 up
Jon Rahm (ESP x3) bt Shane Lowry (IRL x38) 2 up
Ryan Palmer (USA x24) bt Sebastian Munoz (COL x56) 2&1
Max Homa (USA x35) bt Collin Morikawa (USA x4) 2&1
JT Poston (USA x63) bt Billy Horschel (USA x32) 4&2
Tommy Fleetwood (ENG x21) bt Antoine Rozner (FRA x58) 4&3
Bryson DeChambeau (USA x5) bt Kim Si-woo (KOR x45) 2&1
Xander Schauffele (USA x6) bt Jason Day (AUS x44) 2&1
Scottie Scheffler (USA x30) and Andy Sullivan (ENG x50) halved
Patrick Reed (USA x7) bt Christiaan Bezuidenhout (RSA x33) 2&1
Joaquin Niemann (CHI x26) and Bubba Watson (USA x55) halved
Sergio Garcia (ESP x39) bt Tyrrell Hatton (ENG x8) 3&2
Lee Westwood (ENG x18) bt Matt Wallace (ENG x51) 5&3
Mackenzie Hughes (CAN x48) bt Webb Simpson (USA x9) 4&3
Paul Casey (ENG x17) bt Talor Gooch (USA x59) 3&2
Patrick Cantlay (USA x10) bt Carlos Ortiz (MEX x42) 1 up
Brian Harman (USA x54) bt Hideki Matsuyama (JPN x23) 1 up
Rory McIlroy (NIR x11) bt Lanto Griffin (USA x46) 4&3
Ian Poulter (ENG x60) bt Cameron Smith (AUS x25) 1 up
Dylan Frittelli (RSA x64) bt Jason Kokrak (USA x29) 3&2
Tony Finau (USA x12) and Will Zalatoris (USA x40) halved
Bernd Wieberger (AUT x43) bt Viktor Hovland (NOR x13) 4&2
Abraham Ancer (MEX x27) bt Kevin Streelman (USA x53) 2&1
Brendon Todd (USA x47) bt Daniel Berger (USA x14) 2&1
Erik van Rooyen (RSA x62) bt Harris English (USA x19) 2&1
Matt Fitzpatrick (ENG x15) bt Corey Conners (CAN x37) 5&4
Matthew Wolff (USA x20) and Jordan Spieth (USA x49) halved
Marc Leishman (AUS x36) bt Im Sung-jae (KOR x16) 2&1
Russell Henley (USA x50) bt Victor Perez (FRA x31) 4&3