AUSTIN, Texas -- Rory McIlroy had every reason to love the long ball Thursday.
Taken to the 18th hole in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, McIlroy unleashed the shot of the tournament. He smashed a drive on the 375-yard closing hole so magnificently that it pitched on the green and rolled out to just inside 4 feet.
That all but clinched his 2-up victory over Denny McCarthy as McIlroy led a parade of top seeds into the final round of group play at Austin Country Club.
"It was good," McIlroy said with a smile, which was like saying Michelangelo did a good job on the Sistine Chapel.
He capped a rally from 3 down through six holes. McIlroy didn't take his first lead in the match until another power show -- a big drive into the wind on the par-5 16th to set up a two-putt birdie from 18 feet.
Defending champion Scottie Scheffler, who had to make a 12-footer on the last hole to win his first match, had seven birdies in a nine-hole stretch in the middle of his match against Alex Noren for a 5-and-4 victory.
Patrick Cantlay (4), Max Homa (5) and Xander Schauffele (6) also won their matches as four of the top six seeds took a 2-0 record into today in a bid to win their group and advance to the knockout stage on the weekend.
The exception was Jon Rahm, who recovered from his opening round loss by driving the green on the par-4 fifth on his way to a 4-and-3 victory over Keith Mitchell. That means Rahm winning his group is in his hands, as Rickie Fowler lost his match.
It capped another blustery day of momentum shifts and uncertain outcomes, typical of this format that is being played for the last time.
Matt Kuchar was on the cusp of tying Tiger Woods' tournament record of 36 wins, but then he missed a 5-foot birdie putt on the last hole and had to settle for a halve with Chris Kirk.
Cameron Young never led in his match against Corey Conners -- they halved 14 of the first 15 holes -- until the rising American star made eagle on the par-5 16th, holed a 12-foot birdie on the 17th to take his first lead and then made a wild scramble for par to win.
"Obviously it's windy and difficult today but there's enough holes you should still make four, five or six birdies. It's just keeping myself patient knowing that those are probably coming," Young said. "I would have liked them to be a little bit earlier, but I'll take them right where they were."
The McIlroy drive was the topper, though.
"I was imagining the driver was going to land into the upslope and sort of stay 10, 20 yards short," McIlroy said. "I didn't imagine I could fly it on the green."
As for where it rates, McIlroy laughed.
"I was 1 up and there's certainly a lot of other ways to make birdie on that hole without having to do that," he said. "But yeah, it was a great swing and it was great time to do it."
It came during a week in which McIlroy said to "No Laying Up" that he favored the USGA and R&A proposal to roll back the distance golf balls travel for elite competition. The governing bodies chose not to address the driver.
"I think you're gonna see people with more well-rounded games succeed easier than what the game has become, which is a bit bomb-and-gouge over these last few years," he said.
This was more bomb-and-putt, and it was a beauty.
The shot was similar to Robert MacIntyre driving the 18th green at Austin Country Club two years ago when he needed to win the final hole to win his group, and it knocked out top-seeded Dustin Johnson.
McIlroy's work is not done, and none of the top seeds can be assured to advancing even without having lost a match.
Two players can speak from experience. Cantlay two years ago was 2-0 when he lost on the third day and then faced a sudden-death playoff against Brian Harman -- whom he had beaten on the first day -- and lost with a three-putt on the second extra hole.