Austin, Texas – One shot into the match, Jordan Spieth already was in a golf cart being driven back to the tee.
It took three holes before Patrick Reed had to putt.
The most anticipated match turned into a sloppy affair Friday when Spieth hit one shot out-of-bounds, two shots into a hazard and three times gave away a chance to win the hole by three-putting.
And right when it looked as though Spieth might still have a chance, Reed buried him with a 40-foot birdie putt from behind the 17th green for a 2-and-1 victory in the Dell Technologies Match Play that sent Reed into the weekend and Spieth searching for answers.
“I don’t think it would have been that tough to beat me today,” Spieth said.
Reed was tough enough when it mattered. He seized control with the prettiest shot of the match, a knockdown wedge into the wind that grazed the front edge of the cup on the 13th for a 2-up lead. He ended it with a putt that looked as though it might go 8 feet by until the hole got in the way.
“Just happened to be the perfect line,” Reed said. “Thank God, because that thing was moving.”
Reed is among 16 players who won their group on Friday at Austin Country Club and advanced to single-elimination on the weekend, all of them from matches away from a World Golf Championships title.
That group includes Justin Thomas, at No. 2 the top seed remaining, who can go to No. 1 in the world by winning.
It doesn’t include Dustin Johnson, the defending champion who played so poorly that none of the three matches he lost made it to the 18th hole. Johnson left the gallery with one parting shot, a 489-yard drive that would be the longest in PGA Tour history except that stats from Match Play are not official.
Rory McIlroy had a chance to advance except that he was beaten soundly by Brian Harman.
And it doesn’t include Spieth, who now has gone seven tournaments since his last top 10.
“I’m human and I’m realistic that based on the way the year’s gone … it’s been kind of a trying time for me, especially on and round the greens,” Spieth said. “Stuff I took for granted in setup and pace control and all that kind of stuff … has been a little bit more difficult. And I’ve been trying to figure out how to get back to that level, and I’ve been trying different things.”
Thomas and Sergio Garcia (No. 7) were the only top-10 seeds to advance to the fourth round. Thomas had the easiest time, a 7-and-5 victory over Francesco Molinari. Asked how he felt going into the weekend, Thomas replied, “The same as the other 16 guys. We all start at the same place.”
Phil Mickelson was eliminated when Charles Howell III, who beat Lefty on Wednesday, completed a 3-0 mark in group play by beating Satoshi Kodaira.
Howell and Ian Poulter, who swept his matches when Kevin Chappell conceded at the turn with a back injury, still have a chance to earn a spot in the Masters by getting into the top 50 at the end of the week. They both need to win at least one more match.
Paul Casey might have had the toughest day: He lost twice.
Casey only had to halve his match to advance for the third time in four years. He lost to Matt Fitzpatrick, and even then had a chance to win his group if the other match was halved. Instead, Kyle Stanley made an 8-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to win, and then he beat Casey on the second hole of a playoff.
Tyrrell Hatton also was forced into a playoff, and he beat Brendan Steele on the first extra hole.
The tightest match was Alex Noren and Tony Finau, one of four matches between players who had not lost all week. Finau won three straight holes on the back nine to take a 1-up lead, only to lose the 14th with a bogey. With the match all square, Noren made a 10-foot birdie at the 17th to go 1 up, and then holed a 15-foot par putt on the final hole to avoid going to a playoff with Finau.
Noren now has won seven of his last eight matches in his event, his only loss coming to Johnson in the quarterfinals last year.
In other groups:
– Garcia won on the 17th hole against Xander Schauffele and won his group for the first time since it switched to pool play in 2014. He also becomes the home favorite from living part-time in Austin, where his wife gave birth to their first child last week.
– Si Woo Kim outlasted Webb Simpson on the 18th hole to advance.
– Matt Kuchar made a hole-in-one in a 6-and-4 victory over Ross Fisher to advance to the weekend for the second time in three years.
– Bubba Watson birdied his last two holes to earn a halve against Julian Suri and avoid a playoff. Watson next faces Harman, a match of Georgia lefties.
– Louis Oosthuizen beat Jason Day with two clutch putts, and then won the group with a 12-foot par putt in a playoff to beat Jason Dufner. This is the third time in four years that Oosthuizen has reached the weekend.
– Kevin Kisner, a 4-and-3 winner over Johnson, figured he was headed for a playoff when Adam Hadwin took a 1-up lead on the 18th over Bernd Wiesberger. But then Wiesberger holed a 20-foot putt for birdie, Hadwin missed his par putt from 12 feet and Kisner won the group.
At Carlsbad, California, Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 in the Kia Classic to open a five-stroke lead halfway through the second round.
The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara Golf Club. The 2015 champion has 20 LPGA Tour victories. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. win the Solheim Cup.
Lizette Salas, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas had a 67, and Park and Hedwall shot 70. The afternoon starters included top-ranked Shanshan Feng, Inbee Park, Michelle Wie, Ariya Jutanugarn and Lydia Ko.
Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, leaving her in danger of missing the cut in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.
At Biloxi, Mississippi, Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions’ Rapiscan Systems Classic.
Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at Fallen Oak. He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.
Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back, and Steve Stricker shot 68. Calcavecchia won last month in Boca Raton, Florida, and Stricker took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.
Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.
Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.
Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.
At Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, Tony Romo bogeyed the first six holes and shot a 10-over 82 to finish last in his PGA Tour debut.
Romo followed the opening bogey run in the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship with a double bogey on the par-4 18th. He birdied the par-5 fourth and par-4 sixth on the second nine, but had double bogeys on the par-3 second and par-4 fifth.
The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback had a 15-over 159 total – six shots worse than the next player on the leaderboard and 28 strokes behind leader Brice Garnett.
Romo opened with a 77. Now an NFL analyst for CBS Sports, he received a sponsor’s exemption to the tournament and played as an amateur. The event has one of the weaker fields of the year because it is held opposite the World Golf Championships event in Texas.
Garnett followed his opening 63 with a 68 to get to 13-under 131.
Steve Wheatcroft and Keith Mitchell were a shot back, each after their second 66.