The WGC - Dell Match Play: Defeat for Justin Thomas not fatal but almost

The Ryder Cup star still has two more matches to play after his opening-day defeat to Luke List in Texas but history says he now has a mountain to climb.

The WGC - Dell Technologies Match Play was changed to a group format in 2015 to ensure everyone signing up would play at least three matches.

The idea of having to pack up and go home on a Wednesday was unappealing to the players themselves and bad news for TV ratings if the top stars were eliminated.

So after losing his opener to Luke List at Austin Country Club, Justin Thomas lives to fight another day. And perhaps four more days. All hail the group format.

There's a slight problem though. While a first-day defeat no longer delivers the fatal knockout blow, it leaves the loser on the canvas and struggling to beat the count.

A reminder that the format features 16 four-man groups and a field of 64. There are 32 matches a day played during the group phase.

Looking at last year's result in Texas, 26 players lost on the opening day (six games were halved). How many of those went on to win the group and and qualify for last 16? Just two.

An unusual year maybe. No. Go back to 2019 (2020 wasn't played due to Covid) and again just two first-day losers recovered to reach the knockout phase.

Maybe best not to tell Thomas that after his 3&2 defeat to List on Wednesday.

Some basic maths says his chances of going through are now 12.5% (2 divided by 16).

Course horse Kisner wins again

What could have tempered the blow and increased his chances a little is a halved match in the other Group 6 game - Kevin Kisner v Marc Leishman.

But the chips didn't fall JT's way. Kisner, a tournament specialist here after twice making the final and winning the second of those in 2019, romped to a 4&3 win over Aussie Marc Leishman.

Defeat for Thomas in Thursday's game against Leishman and it's game over as one or both of Kisner and List will move to at least 1.5pts after their match.

List took the lead against Thomas with a birdie at the par-5 2nd hole and never looked back.

Thomas twice cut a 2-up List lead in half but in a lacklustre performance he conceded defeat when losing to his opponent's birdie on the par-5 16th.

Kisner, meanwhile, was 4-up after 8 and always in control.

Here's what the two Group 6 winners said later.

Luke List - 3&2 winner over Justin Thomas

Luke List wins the Farmers Insurance Open

"Didn't make too many mistakes. I think we both played okay, I feel like we weren't scoring the best, but it's tricky to make a lot of birdies out there.

"I kept it in front of me and I think that putt on 13 was a big putt, just to have that one to never really relinquish the early 1-up lead at any point was good.

"I thought it was a little more gusty today as far as the consistency, but it was blowing a lot yesterday, so I think that it prepared us a little bit better for the conditions out there today with the same direction.

"Velocity is only going to pick up this afternoon. It's tough out there."

"I hadn't played great since the win [his debut win at Torrey Pines], been fighting a little bit of an injury, but I got a really great caddie and he was really positive and kind of us just, we were having fun a little bit, took some pressure off today.

"I'm definitely the underdog, Justin's a great player and he played well last week and he's gotten the better of me in the past so I wanted to get one on him."

Kevin Kisner - 4&3 winner over Marc Leishman

"Just tried to hit a lot of quality shots and was able to do that. I think I hit every green in regulation. Mark didn't make a lot of putts, so if he makes those putts this match is a lot more interesting.

(On being a match play specialist) "Just trying to be really annoying. When you're really annoying it can get under their skin. I don't have the most firepower but never give a hole away is kind of my MO, and that's what I love about this golf course is I can chase the ball out there in the fairways and hole a few putts.

"I'm going to go work on my putting. I wasn't real pleased with that. But ball-striking is good and it always depends on the conditions and your opponent, so we'll see how the week goes."

READ MORE: The WGC - Dell Match Play: Jordan Spieth opens with a win but admits "it wasn't pretty"

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