Matt York/Associated Press
For a minute there, it looked like Rory McIlroy would escape. A birdie on No. 16 put him one up heading into the final two holes, capping off a torrid run that saw the Northern Irishman go from two down at No. 13 to the lead.
It just wasn't meant to be.
Harris English birdied the difficult 17th to make the match all square and then put McIlroy away in the first extra hole to defeat the top-seeded star one up.
Like his deficit for most of the day, McIlroy can only blame his own inconsistency. Struggling with ball placement, McIlroy sprayed his shots all over the course on No. 19 and made it almost impossible for English to mess up the upset. English carded a solid par to finish it out, while McIlroy only managed to eventually tap-in for double-bogey.
Thursday's action overall continued the glut of upsets at the Match Play Championship, typically one of the most unpredictable and thrilling events on the PGA calendar. In addition to McIlroy, fellow top seed Henrik Stenson lost to eighth-seeded Louis Oosthuizen 4 and 3 to ensure the top overall seed would not advance past the second round. With Zach Johnson losing to 16th-seeded Richard Sterne in the opening round, Justin Rose is the only hope remaining for No. 1 seeds.
As for McIlroy? This is just the latest setback as he goes about rebuilding his reputation among fans and the media after a nightmare 2013 campaign.
English consistently out-performed the world's seventh-ranked player, birdieing the par-five second hole to go one up and playing with an even keel throughout the round. McIlroy battled valiantly on the front. Even as English failed to give away any strokes via bogeys, McIlroy took the third and eighth holes to keep the match even going into the back nine.
Starting with No. 10, though, the wheels started falling off. McIlroy bogeyed that hole and conceded the 11th to give English a sudden two-hole lead with seven to play. The two traded back and forth on Nos. 12 and 13, with McIlroy going birdie-bogey to almost single-handedly dictate the result.
With the pressure mounting, English finally showed signs of nerves and began his own faltering effort to enable the aforementioned comeback. But the Georgia native fought strong. As pointed out by the St. Jude Classic's Twitter feed, the McIlroy-English match essentially boiled down to English being just a little steadier:
English will continue on to face Jim Furyk, who won 3 and 2 against Charl Schwartzel in their second-round match. A two-time winner last season, English is expected to qualify for his first Masters and U.S. Open this season, so he's someone to watch on the calendar going forward.
McIlroy, meanwhile, merely has to deal with another disappointment. Match play obviously is a far different animal than the strokes—Tiger Woods had storied struggles in head-to-head matchups at different points—but the Ryder Cup is later this year. When it comes to having perspective, this just isn't the time to go out early.