For the second straight year, Jordan Spieth will leave the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play early, but with The Masters only two weeks away, the former Longhorn still feels confident about his game.
“I feel as good as I have in a while about my game,” Spieth said after his round on Friday.
After storming back to life to halve against Billy Horschel during Wednesday’s opening round, Spieth handily defeated Kevin Na on Thursday with his largest lead being six up before clinching the victory 3 & 2.
Spieth entered his match against Bubba Watson on Friday needing to win or at least tie to advance to the knockout stage, but found himself down four through only four holes.
After a mishap on the first hole, followed by a missed putt just under three feet on the second hole, Spieth found the hazard on back-to-back holes to put him down four. From there on out though, Spieth would finish his round five-under par. But it wasn’t enough as he finished one down to Watson.
“It was almost there,” Spieth said. “I had my chances after that start to still be able to win, it was really just the start that hurt me.”
Spieth slowly started to claw his way back, cutting the deficit to just two after the front nine, but could never get over the hump. On the 11th hole, Spieth hit the flagstick but got an unlucky break as his ball ricochet off of it and rolled back to about 33-feet.
With a chance to cut the lead to just one, Spieth missed a five-foot putt on the 12th but caught a break as Watson missed his par putt on the following hole to be only one down. But even with five holes left, Spieth never could even things up.
Standing on the 18th tee-box, Spieth still had a glimmer of hope of advancing to the knockout stage after Kevin Na defeated Billy Horschel 3 and 2. With Spieth in one of the front greenside bunkers, Watson launched a drive with infamous pink and black “Bubba” driver and quickly raised his hand to signal it was going right.
Watson’s shot found a tree but bounced back into the middle of the fairway, where he proceeded to get up-and-down for a birdie, sealing the deal on the match and sending Spieth home.
Spieth has only advanced to the knockout stage once in six starts at the Match Play, reaching the Round of 16 in 2016, the tournament’s debut in Austin. Since then, Spieth has been knocked out in group play each year.
“I think if this were a 72-hole event, I’d have a chance to win tomorrow based on the way I played the last three days,” Spieth said. “These are the best players in the world.”
Whether or not you call it a slump, Spieth has not won on the PGA Tour since The Open Championship in 2017, while also not recording a finish inside the top thirty this season.
Yet Spieth came into this week worried more about his game progressing and less about winning.
“For me it’s just about progression here,” Spieth said on Tuesday. “I feel good about my game right now … it’s been progressing nicely.”
That progress was shown on Wednesday and Thursday, after he battled back from three down against Horschel to force a halve. He followed that with another solid showing against Na, knocking in four birdies and an eagle en route to his victory.
“I’m just trying to each day feel like I progressed a little more in what I’m working,” Spieth said after his round on Thursday. “And whatever happens this week as far as win or lose the match, whatever happens next week score-wise, if I continue to do that I’ll be in the best position day in and day out to succeed.”
After playing in the final pairing of the 2013 Masters alongside Watson, Spieth began making a name for himself despite eventually losing the match. A year later he found himself on top of the world with a green jacket to show for it.
Regardless if his game is back, Spieth will truly see how far he has progressed in two weeks at Augusta.