x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Els knocks out top-ranked Luke Donald in first round of Match Play

World No 1 left to rue over loss of 'control of the golf ball' while Tiger Woods has a narrow escape.

ARIZONA // Top-ranked defending champion Luke Donald was hammered by Ernie Els on Wednesday while Tiger Woods had a narrow first-round escape at the World Golf Championships Match Play Championship.

South Africa's Els dumped the Englishman 5-and-4, only the third time in event history the top seed has been ousted in the opening round. Els won five of seven holes from the eighth to close out the match on the 14th hole.

"I was trying to just take it as a first round match," Els said. "There's always hype when the No 1 player is playing with the No 64 seed but I think Luke and I took it for what it was.

"Obviously I can play a little bit of golf so I'm sure he didn't really want to face me. But that's the way it worked out. I played well. Luke had a bit of an off day and I'm obviously very pleased to go through."

Former world No 1 Woods survived a scare before progressing through to the second day at the $8.5 million (Dh29m) event.

Despite losing the opening two holes, Woods clawed his way back against unheralded Spanish World No 48 Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano to win 1-up and set up a second-round match with fellow American Nick Watney.

Donald was left to lament one of his poorer days out on the golf course. His four bogeys left him hung out to dry.

The result also means he could lose his status as World No. 1 should No. 2 Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland or No. 3 Lee Westwood of England go deep into the event. Both had reasonably comfortable first round victories.

"It's disappointing," Donald said.

"To lose control of the golf ball like I did today is really frustrating.

"I don't think it would have mattered who I played today. I gave away too many holes and made too many mistakes. You can't do that in match play against anyone, let alone Ernie."

McIlroy didn't hold back when asked about the chance to arrest the top spot in the world after his 2-up win over South African George Coetzee.

"To be honest, I came in here yesterday and talked about if I play well and just win matches that will take care of itself," he said.

"But obviously it's another incentive waking up each morning and knowing that if you win your match at the end of the week you could be world No 1.

"We'll see what happens. I have to get through a lot of matches before that, but it definitely gives me an added incentive this week."

Facing a potential first-round elimination at the event for just the third time in his career, Woods won two of the last four holes and made a clutch up and down from a bunker on the 18th to seal the victory.

"I don't think either one of us had our best stuff today," Woods said. "We both made our share of mistakes. There's no doubt about that. But somehow I was able to move on."

Fernando-Castano was left to rue a great chance at victory.

"If there was one day to beat Tiger Woods, this was it," he lamented. "I didn't take the opportunity."

Top seeds in the other brackets moved on without much hassle.