There was always the probability familiar comforts were all Jordan Spieth required to kick-start his year. In his back yard of Texas, Spieth is more the home star than the lone one.
The world No1 requires just a halved match against his close friend, Justin Thomas, to progress to the knockout stage of the WGC-Dell Match Play. Spieth has looked far more like his old, accomplished – and fear-inducing – self at the Austin club, a venue he does not so much recognise as recall as a routine stop from his youth. Spieth joked on Tuesday about the unusual sight of an Austin hotel room; he is more accustomed to “crashing on my buddies’ couches”.
Thursday’s Spieth success was by 5&4 over Victor Dubuisson. Much like the Wednesday win over another European, Jamie Donaldson, he never looked in trouble. This time, the 22-year-old was three up after only five holes.
Spieth’s confidence has been restored and in opportune time, with the Masters and a Green Jacket defence less than a fortnight away. Tales of Spieth’s demise following a run of no top-10 finishes from mid-January were always overstated. The sense he would relish proving as much should not have been underplayed.
“After the first two holes I couldn’t tell you how I was up,” Spieth said. “Sometimes that’s how matchplay works. I think it rattled him enough to be able to continue to advance that lead.
“It’s a great position to be in. There are no complaints on my side. I’ve been striking the ball great. The middle of the front nine has really been a solid place for us. And when you are up three up and you are striking the ball well on a windy day with a difficult course, it’s difficult for anyone to come from behind. It was nice to get done there on 14.”
But what of the dynamic between himself and Thomas, once the top-ranked college golfers in the United States? “I know how badly he wants to beat me,” Spieth said. “We’ve been on the same team plenty of times in matches. I think it will be fun. Hopefully we can both start making some birdies and it’s a good match with some good golf being displayed. We’ve had dinner a couple of times this week. He’s a good friend of mine.
“We both want to beat each other. We obviously have a ton of respect for each other and each other’s games. We have since we were 14 years old. He’ll want to beat me bad; that’s kind of just who we are. As much as I just want to halve the match and stay in tomorrow and practise, I don’t think he’s going to want that to be the case. I’m going to have to bring my A-game.”
Jason Day’s appearance on the 1st tee looked in doubt during a ginger warm-up session, the Australian having suffered from “searing” back pain during a Wednesday success over Graeme McDowell. Day took to the course, drove the opening hole – downwind, but all 381 yards of it – and converted for an eagle. Beware the injured golfer, indeed.
Day never let that advantage over Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee slip, claiming a point by a scoreline of 5&3. More importantly, there were no signs of physical impingement to the US PGA champion whatsoever.
Rory McIlroy secured a second win in as many days, this time with an improved performance as he saw off Smylie Kaufman by 3&1. McIlroy’s final, crucial group match is against Kevin Na. “My confidence is higher than it was,” the world No3 said. “My play definitely moved up another level. I hit some better shots and I made some more birdies. I feel good. I just need to beat Kevin and I go through. So it is nice to have that clarity.”
The biggest win of day two was for the Open champion Zach Johnson, who was a serious contender to claim the title even before an 8&6 defeat of Martin Kaymer. Johnson even had the temerity to lose the 1st.
Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson were all victors, too. Mickelson’s win was the strangest as his opponent, Daniel Berger of the United States, clipped a wall with his club during his downswing and missed the ball completely on the final hole. A two-word expletive, wrist injury and red face all followed for the unfortunate 22-year-old.
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