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Jordan Spieth excited about return to Austin

By Tom LaMarre, The Sports Xchange
Jordan Spieth. Photo by Frank Polich/UPI
Jordan Spieth. Photo by Frank Polich/UPI | License Photo

The oddsmakers aren't worried about Jordan Spieth's recent slump, as they list him as the favorite to repeat in the Masters next month at Augusta.

The No. 1 player in the World Golf Rankings also is the favorite this week in the WGC-Dell Match Play, and that figures, since the tournament has moved to Austin (Texas) Country Club.

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The native of Dallas played at the University of Texas in Austin before leaving school in the middle of his sophomore year late in 2012.

"I couldn't be more excited and proud that my second home, Austin, Texas, is going to host the World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play at the great Austin Country Club," the 22-year-old Spieth said. "I know that my peers -- the Americans and the international players -- are going to love the Austin feel, the crowds and Austin Country Club itself.

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"I love Austin Country Club. Hopefully I'll go there and get off to a good start. I've got to start my rounds better. It's that simple. You can't start over par in every single round and expect to do anything with it. It's just too hard to turn around all the time."

Spieth won five times on the PGA Tour last year, including the Masters, the U.S. Open and the Tour Championship, to zoom past Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and Jason Day of Australia to the top of the rankings.

Then he started 2016 with an eight-stroke victory in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions before hitting a few bumps in the road. He made two long trips, tying for fifth in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, then winding up second in the Singapore Open when he was by far the class of the field.

Returning to the PGA Tour, he tied for 21st in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, missed the cut in the Northern Trust Open, tied for 17th in the WGC-Cadillac Championship and tied for 18th in his title defense in the Valspar Championship.

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Not bad for most players, other than the missed cut, but this is a guy who won eight times around the world in a span of about 13 months.

Most troubling was Spieth shooting 79 in the first round of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera and 76 in the opening round of the Valspar on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook.

"A bit of a bummer, but it's OK, we've got plenty of time," said Spieth, whose primary goal right now is to be ready when he gets to Augusta. "The ball-striking is getting close. Everything is, I would say, in a good place as far as being ready for the Masters.

"I'd like to get things sped up and maybe contend before we get to Augusta."

Match play is a different animal, of course, and Spieth posted a 5-2 record in his first two appearances in the WGC-Match Play Championship, losing to veterans Ernie Els of South Africa in 2014 and Lee Westwood of England last year -- both times in the round of 16.

However, he is 0-3 in team match-play singles, losing to Graham DeLaet of Canada, 1 down, in the 2013 Presidents Cup; to Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, 2 and 1, in the 2014 Ryder Cup; and Marc Leishman of Australia, 1 down, in the 2015 Presidents Cup.

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Still, those were close enough that he could be 3-0 with a good break here or there.

To find the winners of the past two editions of the WGC match-play tournament, Spieth needs look no farther than the guys ranked right below him in the world rankings.

Day, who won the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday, defeated Victor Dubuisson of France in an epic 23-hole title match two years ago at Desert Mountain in Arizona, and McIlroy downed Gary Woodland, 4 and 2, last year in the final at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.

Spieth, Day, McIlroy and the next 13 players in the field from the World Golf Rankings will be top-seeded in their four-player groups, with the other three to be selected in a random drawing.

No. 7 Henrik Stenson of Sweden decided not to play in the tournament and No. 15 Jim Furyk is injured, so No. 65 Patton Kizzire and No. 66 Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark were added to the field.

The four players in each group will play a round-robin format the first three days, with the overall winners from those foursomes advancing to the round of 16.

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The second round is a hurdle Spieth hopes to clear this time.

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