Perez shoves Leish to brink

Pat Perez
Pat Perez plays what proved the sealing shot, firing past the grandstand on the 15th hole to set up a par and victory against Marc Leishman.

Marc Leishman’s WGC Match Play Championship fate is no longer in his hands.

From a position of control heading into today’s match against Pat Perez, Leishman must now rely on a favourable result tomorrow after the American veteran hung tough on the back nine to win 2&1 at Austin Country Club today.

A halve or a win by Perez against Lee Westwood on day three will be enough to hand the unfancied Perez victory in the group; a win by the former world No.1 will force a three-way playoff between the pair and Leishman.

Throwing an additional spanner in the works for Leishman is that he will sit idle tomorrow with a conceded win after group rival Jason Day’s withdrawal yesterday when he revealed his mother’s battle with cancer.

So should Westwood win, Leishman will play his first shot in anger for the day on a sudden-death playoff hole.

Perez, the 56th seed, was understandably delighted after a super lag putt on the 17th hole locked in his victory over the newly minted Arnold Palmer Invitational champion.

"Marc's a world class player. He just won last week. Obviously he's hot. He's tough. He's tough,” Perez said.

“I knew I was going to have to play really well to beat him and I did – it’s a great feeling.

“Massive performance, I think, on my part today to get that done. I've got one more day to try to get through. I'm just happy about the opportunity."

Leishman, who beat Westwood 3&2 on day one, never led today, but pulled level after a brilliant eagle on the par-five 12th, then Perez’s concession on the 13th.

But just when momentum looked to be on his side, a drowned tee shot on the 14th and an errant sand wedge on 15th both cost bogeys that ultimately became the turning point.

Leishman did have one last hurrah with a sensational driver from the fairway on the par-five 16th to within 3m, but his eagle putt missed and the match was effectively sealed.

The first massive surprise of the tournament was confirmed today when Danish veteran Soren Kjeldsen advanced from group two with a 4&3 victory over Argentine Emiliano Grillo.

The result came a day after Kjeldsen, one half of Denmark’s World Cup winning team from Melbourne in November, took down world No.2 Rory McIlroy in their opening match.

The fourth group member, American Gary Woodland, withdrew today citing a family problem, leaving Kjeldsen with a bye tomorrow and a guaranteed path with a 3-0 record and last year’s semi-finalist McIlroy on the sidelines for the weekend.

Similarly, Alex Noren has already advanced out of group eight with a 2-0 record and a “bye” tomorrow after Francesco Molinari withdrew today suffering a wrist injury.

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