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Soren Kjeldsen, Alex Noren clinch spots in next round of WGC Match Play event

Soren Kjeldsen, Alex Noren clinch spots in next round of WGC Match Play event
Soren Kjeldsen watches his tee shot at No. 1 during the Dell Technologies Match Play event on Thursday. (Eric Gay / Associated Press)

Soren Kjeldsen and Alex Noren won their groups in the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play, one round before group play is even finished.

Rory McIlroy took the day off, and he's already guaranteed the weekend off.

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Thursday was as wild as it gets in this World Golf Championship tournament, even without wind ripping so hard through the edge of Hill Country that Phil Mickelson chipped into the water and still halved the hole.

Brandt Snedeker, showing class in the midst of such exasperating conditions, conceded a seven-foot putt when Andy Sullivan's ball rolled up toward the hole and the wind blew it back.

"I'm sure everybody saw some funny-looking shots out there," Charles Howell III said, who kept his hopes alive with a clutch pitch and a 1-up victory.

The wind had nothing to do with a domino-effect of withdrawals that allowed Kjeldsen and Noren to get a day of rest Friday.

One after Jason Day withdrew because his mother faces surgery for lung cancer, Gary Woodland pulled out because of a personal family matter. He was scheduled to play McIlroy in the second round, and while McIlroy was conceded a victory, he was eliminated four hours later when Kjeldsen won his second straight match. Kjeldsen was to play Woodland in the third round, so he was assured of winning the group at 3-0.

And so ended McIlroy's week — 17 holes on Wednesday when Kjeldsen beat him with four straight birdies, no golf on Thursday, and a meaningless match Friday. All that's left is for McIlroy to decide whether to play the Houston Open next week. He has played just 13 competitive rounds this year.

Noren, meanwhile, had an easy time over Bernd Wiesberger for his second straight victory. He only had to beat Francesco Molinari on Friday, but then Molinari withdrew with a wrist injury, assuring Noren a 3-0 record and a spot in the knockout stage this weekend.

Along with two players already advancing, 23 players from the 64-man field already are mathematically eliminated.

Jordan Spieth stayed in the game with a 4-and-2 victory over Yuta Ikeda. They halved the 13th hole with double bogeys when Spieth hit into the water, and then Ikeda hit into the water. The wind was that strong, and it was even tougher on the greens.

Dustin Johnson had another easy time as he tries to get in position for his third straight victory, but he still has one more match to claim his group. Ditto for Brooks Koepka, who has yet to see the last five holes in competition. Koepka has closed out both his matches on the 13th hole.

Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia both won two matches and now square off Friday to see which Spaniard wins the group. That also will be the case with Charl Schwartzel and Paul Casey, 2-0 in their groups and facing each other Friday.

With round-robin play — head-to-head results do not apply in case of a tie — there's a possibility of two-man, three-man, even four-man playoffs to decide who advances out of group play into single elimination on the weekend.

Mullinax has early lead in Puerto Rico

Five days after getting married, Trey Mullinax ran off nine birdies and saved par with a 15-foot putt on his last hole for a nine-under 63 to lead the Puerto Rico Open.

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Mullinax had a one-shot lead over D.A. Points among the early starters at Coco Beach Golf and Country Club.

The Puerto Rico Open is held the same week as a World Golf Championship, meaning the winner does not automatically earn a spot in the Masters. Wesley Bryan could move into the top 50 in the world and qualify for the Masters. He played in the afternoon.

Mullinax got married Saturday in Birmingham, Alabama, to Abi Essman, whom he has dated since high school. The PGA Tour rookie out of Alabama played bogey-free in an occasional rain.

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