It was the match that everyone wanted to see.
On Friday at Austin Country Club, former Longhorn Jordan Spieth faced off with his good friend and bullish match player Patrick Reed. The two have partnered together in the past for Team USA in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup.
But on this day, they were against each other — winner moving onto the weekend’s knockout round of the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play.
The playing conditions were brutal, with severe winds gusting and switching on the players all day. That gave way to some so-so golf from both Spieth and Reed throughout the match. And in the end, it was Reed who prevailed, sending Spieth home early for the second consecutive year in this event.
“It was just one of those days that with how the conditions were, it wasn’t fun,” Reed said. “It was a grinder’s day out there.”
The hype for this match began almost as soon as the groups were announced Monday night.
After his match on Thursday, four-time major winner and world No. 7 Rory McIlroy was even asked if he had any interest in watching Spieth-Reed.
“I have a lot of interest in that,” McIlroy said. “What time are they playing?”
“In the afternoon — 1:30,” a reporter said.
“Hopefully I get done early, I can watch it.”
Joking or not, McIlroy wasn’t able to make it out for the match on Friday afternoon — but plenty of others did.
It was easily the largest gallery of the tournament thus far, and to no surprise it was pulling hard for its hometown hero in Spieth.
Shouts of “Hook ‘em” echoed among the spectators all day. Fans on a Lake Austin party boat began a “Texas! Fight!” chant as Spieth walked to the 14th tee box. At times, the crowd was five deep or more.
Former professional cyclist and Austinite Lance Armstrong even followed Spieth and Reed on the back nine.
“First golf tournament ever,” said Armstrong, a Longhorn fan.
Spieth appeared to be a little off on the practice range as he warmed up prior to his match. It carried over into his first few holes. He knocked his opening tee shot out of bounds. He hit both approach shots on the second and third holes into the hazard. After two holes, Spieth was already 2 down.
Spieth birdied the par-4 5th to move to 1 down and made a crucial 8-footer for par on the par-3th 7th. He bogeyed the par-4 8th to fall 2 down again. But then the 24-year-old three-time major winner turned it on.
Spieth’s wedge shots at the par-4 9th and par-4 10th were knocked stiff and conceded for birdies, which squared the match with Reed.
“I thought I rebounded nicely after it kind of looked like a round of 90 or 92 through the first few holes,” Spieth said.
But Spieth made another costly mistake at the par-3 11th and bogeyed, giving Reed a 1-up advantage. Reed didn’t surrender it for the rest of the day.
Spieth missed critical birdie putts at the par-5 12th and the par-4 14th that kept him from mounting a charge. It was a struggle all day, and beside holes 9 and 10, Spieth could just never get it going.
Spieth was 3 down heading to the par-5 16th. His birdie closed the gap to 2 down. But at the par-3 17th, Reed drilled a 40-foot putt from off the green to win the hole and the match, 3 and 1.
“Today I tried four or five different things and started to really feel good about it towards the end of the round,” Spieth said. “It was just a little bit late.”
Spieth hasn’t had a stellar 2018 season. He said after his match with Reed that he’s struggled with his putting and alignment. He’s finished in the top-10 twice this year, but he’s also missed two cuts. In less than two weeks, he’ll return to Augusta National seeking a second green jacket.
Until then, it’s about more fine-tuning as he searches for his form. Spieth will play at the Shell Houston Open next week before heading to the Masters.
“All in all, I didn’t come in expecting a whole lot this week,” Spieth said. “I’m just trying to continue to make progress. I have emphasis on four events a year. And anything in between, especially as we get really close to them, is leading up to it.”