US second seed Justin Thomas and fourth seed Collin Morikawa were eliminated from the WGC Match Play Championship with losses 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 J.T. 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."
- 'I can beat these guys' -
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."
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.