World number two Jon Rahm kept his hopes of winning the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play alive as former Open champion Shane Lowry made a disappointing early exit.
Rahm, who has won three strokeplay events on the PGA Tour this season, suffered a surprise defeat to Rickie Fowler in group two on Wednesday.
But while the former US Open champion bounced back to beat Keith Mitchell 4&3 on Thursday, Lowry’s defeat to Mackenzie Hughes by the same score ensured he cannot qualify for the knockout stages at Austin Country Club.
“I think the biggest difference was on the greens,” Rahm told Golf Channel.
“I started off good yesterday but on 11, 12 and 14 had three putts and that’s why I lost those holes. That’s why I went from having a two-hole lead to going down quickly.
“Today I played pretty similar, not many mistakes tee to green and I was able to capitalise on a couple of putts.”
Rahm will face former BMW PGA Championship winner Billy Horschel in the final round of group matches on Friday and said: “Not many pairings are going to have more electricity on the course than me and Billy combined so it should be a good one.
“I’m going to have to get the win tomorrow.”
“I think it sets manufacturers back quite a bit,” Rahm said. “I don’t think it’s fair to tell all these brands to have to go through the research, the development, and the testing of a brand new golf ball just for a few of us.
“I just don’t think the PGA Tour and the manufacturers are going to put up with that. I have a hard time believing it. But it’s happened before. They have changed the grooves, they keep figuring out limitations for our game, but either way whatever happens we’ll deal with it.”
McIlroy went as far as to say he could use the shorter ball on the PGA Tour even if it was not required in order to best prepare for majors, but Rahm added: “Let’s see if the majors decide to do it.
“I find it hard to believe as well that the majors would go completely against what the professional tours decide to do. And if that were the case, if that were to happen, that would set a huge divide in the game of golf that is just not good for anybody.
“I think Rory, to an extent, is right. The change benefits the better players, especially the longer players.
“I think I would be hitting it 10 to 15 yards shorter, which would put me on what I was doing in 2019, 2020, and my golf game was pretty good back then as well. So I don’t think it would be a big difference.”
Lowry, who bogeyed two of the first four holes against Hughes and found himself five down after seven, briefly threatened to make a comeback as he won the 10th with a par and then eagled the par-five 12th.
However, he promptly found water off the tee on the next and a sixth match play loss of the year – following defeats in all four matches in January’s Hero Cup – was confirmed when Hughes birdied the 15th.
Lowry faces Jordan Spieth on Friday but the destiny of group 12 is in the hands of Taylor Montgomery, who beat Spieth 2&1 and takes on Hughes in the final round of group matches.