Three years ago, Jordan Spieth would have been back in Dallas for an early dinner and Rory McIlroy would be returning to his Florida home. Three years ago, the city of Austin would be lowering the Lone Star flags and turning its attention to the rodeo.
Mercifully, knockout match play was retired three years ago, replaced by three days of round-robin play that gives first-day match losers Spieth and McIlroy hope of making the weekend.
“At this point I’m rooting for a Ryan Moore victory tomorrow,” Spieth said Wednesday after a post-round practice session with instructor Cameron McCormick at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “If he wins tomorrow, then I can control my own destiny on Friday. I obviously have to take care of my end of the bargain tomorrow as well.”
The day didn’t expect to yield too much drama considering the 1-16th seeded Pool A players were facing the Pool D group seeded 49-64. Factoring in Jason Day’s withdrawal to be with his cancer-stricken mother, the top five seeds were 1-3-1.
Spieth lost to World No. 60 Hideto Tanihara – a fearless-swinging, cigarette-smoking, 14-time winner on the Japan Tour. Tanihara bought a Lone Star Flag yardage book for his WGC-Match Play debut. Despite Tanihara knocking off the local favorite, Texas fans greeted him warmly. Though he had never met or played with Spieth, Tanihara called the opportunity “fun” and even felt the pressure was entirely on the Texan.
“I think it was harder for him to play than myself,” he said. “So I think I just had a better chance, less pressure.”
Tanihara took his first lead by birdieing the par-3 seventh hole before Spieth had a chance to make a birdie putt inside of the Onomichi, Japan, native. Spieth missed, yanked his drive hard left off the eighth tee and never could regain a lead, losing 4 and 2. For Tanihara, a top-eight finish will move him into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking and earn him a second Masters invitation. His last invitation was earned off a T-5 finish at the 2006 Open Championship.
Spieth looked especially confused by the greens, which appear to have been kept on the moderate-pace side with 30 mph winds in Thursday’s forecast. He’s welcoming the forecast but not expected to lose sleep over the potential of missing the weekend.
“I will still be able to breath and sleep and have my family there and everything if I’m not here on the weekend,” he said.
Spieth’s fellow young gun and high-seed counterpart McIlroy battled with Soren Kjeldsen throughout their early match at Austin Country Club. There were multiple lead changes before Kjeldsen took command with a birdie at the 465-yard 14th hole. Kjeldsen prevailed, 2 up. The Denmark native and world’s 68th-ranked player finished 6 under through 17 holes.
“Soren played great,” McIlroy said. “He didn’t miss any real makeable putts. He sort of holed everything he should have. And just played a really solid round of golf. It’s hard to beat that, especially when the wind was getting up.”
McIlroy faces Gary Woodland on Thursday while Spieth takes on Yuta Ikeda. No matter how Spieth and McIlroy play, they still will be here Friday, too. Thank you, round robin.