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Fan favorite Jordan Spieth rolls in Match Play

By Steve Habel, The Sports Xchange
Fan favorite Jordan Spieth rolls in Match Play
Jordan Spieth. Photo by Frank Polich/UPI | License Photo

AUSTIN, Texas -- The expectations of adoring fans standing six and seven deep at every hole might be daunting or a distraction to some golfers, but for Jordan Spieth, the top-ranked golfer in the world at just 22 and a favorite son of Texas, it is a force to be harnessed and utilized.

Spieth kept on winning at the World Golf Championship-Dell Match Play on Thursday, as the University of Texas alumnus stayed perfect in group play with a 5-and-4 win over Victor Dubuisson in second-day action amid cold and blustery conditions at Austin Country Club.

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It is the closest thing to a homecoming for Spieth, who moved to 2-0-0 in the event as the gallery cheered and rushed to get a look at its hero.

Those patrons are learning that it is best to arrive at the course early and follow Spieth on the front nine because neither of his matches this week advanced past the 16th hole.

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"I've been striking the ball great, and we are in a great position," Spieth said. "The middle of the front nine has been a solid place for us. And when you are 3 up and striking the ball well on a windy day with a difficult golf course, it makes it difficult (for your opponent) to come from behind. Good starts are very important in match play."

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Spieth took the lead in his match on the second hole and was 3 up by the fifth hole on the way to his runaway victory. Spieth lost only one hole of the 14 played, when he hit his tee shot in the water on the par-3 11th and Dubuisson managed a par.

Spieth needs just to halve his final group match Thursday against Justin Thomas to move on out of pool play. No players clinched advancement Thursday, but 22 were eliminated from contention.

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Much of the talk of the tournament -- outside of Spieth -- was the health of Jason Day after the world's second-ranked player and defending PGA Championship titleholder hurt his back in a Wednesday win over Graeme McDowell in the opening round of pool play.

Day looked his normal, powerful self Thursday afternoon when he hit his driver on the 381-yard opening hole, and with the wind at his back, reached the green and ended up just 12 feet from the hole. He made the eagle putt to take the lead on Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee and eventually won 5 and 3 with a birdie on the 15th hole.

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Day improved to 2-0-0.

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Reigning British Open champion Zach Johnson posted the tournament's largest winning margin so far as he swamped Martin Kaymer 8 and 6 in a match that ended on the 12th hole.

Kaymer won the first hole, but Johnson leveled it immediately on No. 2 and won eight of the next 10 holes. Johnson recorded three birdies during his dominating stretch and watched as Kaymer struggled with three bogeys and two holes that he didn't finish.

"In match play, you know that momentum is always nice," said Johnson, who is 2-0-0. "I got up early and never let go. For the most part, I'm hitting a lot of greens, and that's not easy to do out here with this wind. I want to go out and play solid. If anything, I just want to keep the (momentum) going."

Phil Mickelson won his match over Daniel Berger 1 up when Berger conceded on the 18th after swinging at and missing his ball when his club hit a huge boulder behind him on his downswing. The club flew out of Berger's hands and he immediately grasped his left wrist in obvious pain. He then motioned that he would not continue to Mickelson, who was standing further up the fairway near the putting surface.

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"Neither Daniel or myself played well, and we gave a lot of holes away to each other," Mickelson said. "I was fortunate to come out on top. It wasn't the match either of us had hoped for. Under these difficult conditions when you start to hit it less than perfect, it gets magnified. I hope he's OK. I don't know if I've ever seen that happen."

Mickelson and Patrick Reed are both 2-0-0 heading into a Friday head-to-head showdown to determine which one of them advance.

Other winners in early matches were: Dustin Johnson over Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 5 and 4; Jimmy Walker over Robert Streb, 4 and 3; South Africa's Branden Grace over Sweden's David Lingmerth, 4 and 3; Reed over England's Matthew Fitzpatrick, 4 and 3; England's Andy Sullivan over Australia's Matt Jones, 3 and 1; South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen over Austria's Bernd Wiesberger, 2 and 1; Bubba Watson over Argentina's Emiliano Grillo, 2-up; England's Lee Westwood over Australia's Marc Leishman, 1 up; Wales' Jamie Donaldson over Justin Thomas, 2 up; and Ryan Moore over Spain's Sergio Garcia, 1-up.

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Winners in the afternoon matches included defending champion Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland over Smylie Kaufman, 3 and 1; Kevin Na over Denmark's Thorbjorn Olesen, 3 and 2; Brooks Koepka over South Africa's Jaco Van Zyl, 5 and 4; Bill Haas over Belgium's Thomas Pieters, 4 and 2; Australia's Adam Scott over England's Chris Wood, 3 and 2; Scotland's Russell Knox over Chris Kirk, 2 and 1; Billy Horschel over England's Danny Willett, 3 and 2; South Africa's Charl Schwartzel over Charley Hoffman 3 and 2; Spain's Rafa Cabrera Bello over Kevin Kisner, 4 and 3; Japan's Hideki Matsuyama over Denmark's Soren Kjeldsen, 4 and 2; and South Korea's Byeong-Hun An over Jason Dufner, 2 up.

"I birdied four of my first six, which was a nice way to start," McIlroy said. "The quality of my game was much better today, and I'm going to need to keep playing like that, if not better, to go all the way to the weekend here."

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Seven matches were halved Thursday -- J.B. Holmes and Patton Kizzire; England's Justin Rose and India's Anirban Lahiri; Matt Kuchar and Argentina's Fabian Gomez; Ireland's Shane Lowery and Australia's Marcus Fraser; Brandt Snedeker and New Zealand's Danny Lee; Rickie Fowler and Scott Piercy; and England's Paul Casey and Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell -- with each player earning a half-point.

The players already eliminated from advancing to single-elimination after two of the three group play rounds are Thomas, Casey, McDowell, Kaufman, Lahiri, Hoffman, Lee, Gomez, Olesen, Pieters, Lingmerth, Leishman, Wood, Fitzpatrick, Berger, Wiesberger, Willett, Van Zyl, Lowry, Fraser, Kjeldsen and Jones.

NOTES: Thursday's matches were played with a cold, stout northerly and then westerly wind, the opposite of Wednesday. ... Phil Mickelson is playing in the World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play for the first time since 2011. Mickelson (69.008) leads the tour in Adjusted Scoring Average through the Arnold Palmer Invitational. In his 23 previous seasons as a full-time member of the Tour, Mickelson has been never been atop that ranking until now. ... Only two players have won the WGC-Match Play as the No. 1 seed: Rory McIlroy (2015) and Tiger Woods (2008, 2004 and 2003).

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