Former Longhorn Jhonattan Vegas removed his hat and knelt behind his line as he faced a 17-foot birdie putt on the 18th green Wednesday at Austin Country Club.
Trailing 1 down to two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson, with Watson already in with par, Vegas had to convert in order to halve his first match of the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play.
The Venezuelan gave the putt some good pace, but it just slid past the right edge of the cup. He fell to 0-1 in the group play stage.
“I felt like I could’ve put a little pressure on (Watson) a little more often, but I wasn’t quite able to do that,” Vegas said. “It’s always tough playing against Bubba. He’s a great player.”
Walking off the green, Vegas cracked a smile and embraced a few family members who had followed him during the match.
For Vegas, this week is just as much a homecoming as it is a professional golf tournament. Every now and then a few fans would yell out a quick “Hook ‘em” for the ex-Longhorn, who played at Texas from 2004-07.
“Obviously playing in front of this crowd is always special for me,” Vegas said. “It’s just pretty cool feeling that — a lot of people saying ‘Hook ‘em, Horns.’ (I’m) loving every moment of it and enjoying my time for sure.”
Vegas got behind the eight-ball early in the match, with Watson winning the first two holes. Watson birdied the first and Vegas made bogey at the second.
“I mean (Watson) wasn’t going to win every single hole, so I had to stay with the gameplan,” Vegas said. “You have to stay positive. Match play, it’s up and down, and you just cannot get down on yourself.”
Vegas rebounded on the third hole with a birdie.
At the par-3 7th, Vegas tied the match with a birdie. But he proceeded to lose the next two holes to fall 2 down again heading to the back nine. But Vegas bounced back again and won two of the next three holes to square things up.
Watson birdied the short par-4 13th to regain a 1 up lead. Three holes later at the par-5 16th, Vegas had just seven feet left for birdie after a well-played long bunker shot. But his putt didn’t have enough pace and just missed on the low side of the hole.
“You eliminate the mistakes, let the other guy make the mistakes, try to hang on,” Watson said. “That’s what I did today.”
Vegas faces Belgium’s Thomas Pieters in the second round of matches on Thursday at 9:41 a.m.
“I’m feeling good,” Vegas said. “I feel like I’m playing well enough to win every match.”