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Spieth back at his old college home for Match Play

By DOUG FERGUSON
Created: 03/22/2016 9:52 PM

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Dustin Johnson had driver in hand on the eighth hole when he said what has been a common refrain at the Dell Match Play.

"Where do I go?"

Golf's most unpredictable tournament adds a new dimension this week by moving to Austin Country Club, which has never hosted the world's best players. That excludes Jordan Spieth, though he was only 18 and a long way from being No. 1 in the world.

Spieth was a freshman at the University of Texas, and the team used to play this course to see who qualified to play in the next college tournament.

"It's a place I'm very familiar with and feel I have an advantage at," Spieth said Tuesday. "They made some changes, but for the most part it's the same golf course, with newly sodded areas. They've done just a phenomenal job with it, and I think it's going to be a fantastic match play course."

Jason Day will have to take his word for it.

Coming off his first victory of the year at the Arnold Palmer Invitational two days ago, Day arrived Tuesday and planned to walk the course. He won't play it for the first time until he squares off against Graeme McDowell on Wednesday.

"It is quite breezy out there, so I don't want to create any bad habits with my swing," Day said. "I'm going to go out and probably walk around and try to conserve as much energy as I can, because this week is a very long week and it can be very taxing — not only physically, but mentally, as well — on the body."

That's the hope, anyway.

Match Play changed last year to a round-robin event instead of single-elimination, which keeps the sponsor and some of the players happy because they are assured of making it through Friday. One player from the 16 four-man groups advances to the weekend and the knockout stage.

Spieth is the top seed and opens up against Jamie Donaldson. Rory McIlroy, the defending champion, plays his first match against Thorbjorn Olesen.

At stake this week is No. 1 in the world.

Spieth won the first tournament of the year at Kapalua, and Day took a big step toward catching up to him with his victory at Bay Hill.

The 28-year-old Australian is so close behind at No. 2 that all he has to do is reach the quarterfinals if Spieth doesn't win his group.

That's not what is driving Spieth, though is aware of it.

"The No. 1 gets protected if I do what we set out to do this week," Spieth said.

There is additional pressure as being the local favorite. Spieth spent only three semesters at Texas, long enough for the Longhorns to win an NCAA title in 2012. Spieth contributed to that victory by beating Justin Thomas of Alabama, and those two longtime friends will play again on Friday.

At every tournament this year, Spieth has been getting more attention and larger crowds. He is the Masters and U.S. Open champion and No. 1 in the world. And now he is back on what amounts to home soil, and the expectations are as high as they have been all year.

Spieth can't remember his lowest score at Austin Country Club. The strangest sensation about returning to Austin is staying downtown in a hotel.

"I used to come back here and stay on my buddies' couches when I came back," he said.

Spieth isn't the only player with experience on the course. Adam Scott played Austin Country Club for a college tournament during his very brief stay at UNLV. He can't remember much about the tournament. He didn't recall much about the golf course.

"We played an event here, and it looked familiar somewhat coming in," he said. "And it's a good track. It's going to be enjoyable this week no matter what happens out there. Hopefully, it's a lot of fun."

Scott has reason to lower his expectations. He hasn't won a single match in this World Golf Championship event since he beat Angel Cabrera in 2010.

Even when it went to the round-robin format last year, Scott lost all three matches to Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey and Chris Kirk. Part of that can be traced to the move to Arizona. Scott was 12-5 when it was held at La Costa. He was 2-7 when it moved to the high desert of Arizona.

"I just want to win a match," he said with a laugh.

(Copyright 2016 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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