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Pressure? No problem as Jon Rahm, other Dell Match Play’s troubled seeds head into Friday after much-needed wins

Extra pressure proved no problem Thursday for two of the top players who lost their opening group play matches Wednesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.

Jon Rahm, Kurt Kitayama and Harris English all bounced back from opening-day losses to claim much-needed wins Thursday afternoon.

Rahm, the No. 2 seed, topped Keith Mitchell 4-and-3. Kitayama, the 19th seed who won the recent Arnold Palmer Invitational, beat Christiaan Bezuidenhout 2-and-1. And English, the 37th seed, delivered the morning’s most stunning result, routing No. 7-seeded Will Zalatoris 5-and-3, ending Zalatoris’ chances to advance out of group play.

The one thing that the winners — each of whom desperately needed a win to stay alive — had in common: they didn’t allow themselves to feel any added pressure of their must-win scenarios.

“You can’t be thinking of tomorrow,” Rahm said. “The scenarios are so many that it is way easier if you just focus on what you can control, which is the shot in hand. I did a really good job today.”

Despite his opening loss to Rickie Fowler, Rahm felt he hit the ball well but didn’t make putts. He putted better on Thursday. He took full control over Mitchell with a birdie-eagle-birdie stretch starting at No. 12 before closing out the match with a par on the 15th.

“(Wednesday, against Fowler) I hit a couple of really good putts that just didn’t go in. Today, it was kind of the opposite,” Rahm said. “We were pretty even up until 8, and then 9, 11, 12, I make those putts and I suddenly have a five-shot lead.”

The much-needed win – coupled the other result in his group – makes Friday’s task simple. That’s the one big-picture thought he took with him to the first tee on Thursday.

“Obviously, I’m fully aware that (if) I win the next two matches, I give myself a really good chance,” Rahm said. “The one thing I would need is for Rickie to lose and then if I win (Friday), I’m guaranteed to at least be in a playoff. So that’s what I had in mind.”

Fowler obliged, falling to Billy Horschel 3-and-2.

Kitayama, who lost his first-round match, trailed Christiaan Bezuidenhout by one shot after 13 holes, but then won No. 13 and No. 14 to take the lead and never looked back, winning on the 17th.
English birdied the first hole to take the lead against Zalatoris and never looked back. He said he needed to be the aggressor, and it paid off.

“I kind of changed my mindset coming into today, trying to be the aggressor,” English said. “There’s a lot of birdies that can be had out here. (I) jumped on early, made a good putt on the first hole, and got off to the races and played really solidly.”

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English birdied five of the first 11 holes to open up the lead and stacked pars on pars to keep Zalatoris from gaining ground, ending the match on the 15th.

“It doesn’t matter,” Kitayama said. “You’ve got to win, anyways. You know two (points) is going to give you an opportunity to move on.”

Kitayama trailed by one after 13 holes, but turned things around. He won No. 13 with an 11-foot birdie putt to draw even and made a 2-foot birdie putt on No. 14 to take the lead and never looked back, winning on the 17th. He said he feels more pressure when he’s battling to make the cut in a regular stroke-play event.

“I think there’s more pressure chasing a cut because there’s a lot that you can’t really control,” Kitayama said. “In a 1-v-1 type of situation, there’s a little bit more you control and base your decisions off of how they’re hitting it.”

All three players still have work to do to make it out of group play. Rahm (1-1-0) must beat Horschel (1-0-1) on Friday while Fowler (1-1-0) plays Mitchell (0-1-1). Kitayama (1-1-0) must beat 10th seed Tony Finau (2-0-0) to get into a playoff.

English has a more challenging path. English (1-1-0) must beat Adrien Meronk (1-1-0) and hope that Zalatoris (0-2-0) can spoil Andrew Putnam’s (2-0-0) perfect run through group play.

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