Austin: Shubhankar Sharma pushed the reigning Masters champion Sergio Garcia to the fullest before losing by a hole in his first match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match-Play Championship.
Garcia almost joined the ranks with defending champion Dustin Johnson and Rory McIllroy, who lost their opening matches but managed to scrape through on the 18th hole. Austrian Bernd Wiesberger shocked Johnson 3&1 while Peter Uihlein defeated McIlroy 2&1.
Other big names like Jordan Spieth (beat Charl Schwartzel), Justin Thomas (beat Luke List), Jason Day (beat James Hahn) and Ian Poulter (beat Tommy Fleetwood) won their opening matches. Shubhankar, 21, gave the reigning Masters champion a great fight and in fact led at various stages before being level at the 18th tee.
And then Garcia pulled head to win the last hole and the match in his first appearance since becoming a father last month. Sharma was well received by the fans, many of them Indian, and he said, "I played very well and I am very proud of the way I played. Both Sergio and myself made a lot of mistakes out there but then I holed a great birdie putt there on 16 from 15-feet to match Sergio's birdie and then a good putt for par on 17 (six feet) to save par and send the match down the last.
"It could have gone anyway at the last and I have to congratulate Sergio as he played a fantastic up-and-down for par from the bunker. I just feel like I made a few too many mistakes today and not enough birdies, as I do normally," Sharma told the website www.GolfbyTourMiss.Com
"And while I'm disappointed not to squeeze out the half point, I will go into tomorrow's round with a lot of confidence having played alongside the Masters champion. I still have a lot more left in me and I am confident I can play better tomorrow, so I've gained a lot of confidence today."
Garcia, a veteran of match play lavished praise on the Indian youngster, saying: "It was a good match and I enjoyed playing alongside Shubhankar as he is a very good player, and certainly has some talent," he said.
"He didn't surprise me, and not at all, because I knew he was a good player and he has been playing some fantastic golf, and what he has been achieving has not been because of luck."
Summing up the match, Garcia added, "I gifted a couple of holes to him early on and, as you do in match-play, he took full advantage while he hit a great shot on six. Then we came down the last and he hit a poor drive but then I found the bunker, so a win is a win and great. This one was no different. A couple of moments here and there that I would like to do a little bit better."
It was Garcia who got off to a fine start and was 2-up after just four holes. But the Indian won three holes in a row from the fifth to not only draw alevel, but move ahead through eight holes. The duo halved the ninth and they took the turn with Shubhankar in lead.
It became a seesaw battle as Garcia won the 11th to get back to all-square but Sharma birdied the 13th to take back the lead. Once again Garcia birdied 14th and send the match back to all square. Then the two halved 15, 16 and 17 before Garcia pipped the Indian at the post.
On the Asian front, Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Hideki Matsuyama of Japan produced comfortable opening wins on the first day, while debutants at WGC Match Play Shubhankar and Haotong Li suffered losses.
South Korea's Siwoo Kim was forced to settle for a halve with American veteran Pat Perez, who gallantly fought back from being three-down through 11 holes at the Austin Country Club.