A pair of stars, Hideki Matsuyama and Will Zalatoris, withdrew from the 2023 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play on Friday. Matsuyama cited a recurring neck injury while Zalatoris withdrew due to an illness.
With Matsuyama conceding his match, it's Max Homa who now advances to the Round of 16 unimpeded with a 3-0-0 record.
Matsuyama entered the day 1-1-0 on the week beating Kevin Kisner on Day 1 before falling to Justin Suh on Thursday. Had he claimed victory over Homa, the man from Japan would have forced a playoff with Homa -- and potentially Suh.
"I experienced some stiffness in my neck this morning while warming up on the range, preventing me from making a full swing. As a precautionary measure, I decided to concede my match to Max and rest before moving on to the Valero Texas Open next week," Matsuyama released in a statement. "I want to express my sincere appreciation to Dell Technologies and the Austin Country Club for their kind hospitality and supporting the WGC Match Play through the years."
From a broader perspective, Matsuyama's early dismissal from Austin Country Club does come as a bit of a surprise despite his well-documented injury history. Finishing solo fifth at the 2023 Players Championship his last time out, Matsuyama appeared as if he was trending towards Augusta National for the 2023 Masters in two weeks.
Still listed in the field for next week's Texas Open, Matsuyama's presence in San Antonio will be something to follow. He withdrew from the 2022 Texas Open after 27 holes a season ago citing the same neck injury before finishing T14 in the defense of his Masters title.
Since 2015, Matsuyama has garnered one of the best résumés around Augusta National, totaling seven top-20 finishes, a pair of top 10s and, of course, his victory in 2021. Whether he will be able to add to his list of accomplishments after withdrawing in Austin remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, Zalatoris was set to play Ryan Fox in his third match. With his concession to Fox, he will instead head home early before reappearing at the 2023 Masters. With Zalatoris withdrawing, Group 7 is up in the air as the pod concludes action later this afternoon.
The week as a whole was a disappointment for Zalatoris, who fell to Andrew Putnam and Harris English, eliminating him from advancing to the Round of 16 before his third match even began. The concession to Fox dropped Zalatoris' pool play record to 0-0-3 and could have a trickle-down effect.
Fox has improved to 2-1-0 with his victory. Should English defeat Putnam on Friday, a three-way playoff will unfold at Austin Country Club with the winner advancing to the knockout stage.
Zalatoris' putter was the main culprit for his poor play. Missing numerous short putts, Zalatoris was never able to recover in the two matches he played. This effort followed up his appearance at the 2023 Players Championship, where he posted -1.56 strokes gained putting per round. He will have time to figure out the flat stick as his next start will come at Augusta National in two weeks.
In two prior trips to Augusta National, Zalatoris has acquitted himself nicely, particularly on the glassy putting surfaces. After finishing runner-up to Matsuyama in his debut appearance in 2021, Zalatoris backed it up with a T6 effort in 2022. If he expects this quality to continue, he will need to show vast improvement with the putter in hand.