AUSTIN, TEXAS | Here is what we learned from Thursday’s sun-splashed golf at the WGC-Dell Match Play at Austin Country Club:
* The top four seeds – Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Bubba Watson – control their own fate entering the Friday matches. Each will advance to the round of 16 by winning their third match and could advance if they don’t win.
Danny Willett is the only player among the top 16 seeds without a chance of advancing depending on what happens Friday.
Thirteen players – Spieth, Day, McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Louis Oosthuizen, Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Kevin Na, Bill Haas, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Andy Sullivan, Brooks Koepka and Charl Schwartzel – are 2-0 and will advance with a win (or perhaps less) on Friday.
* Day’s back is apparently fine. After the understandable concern about his playing status because of a back injury that had him wincing in pain Wednesday afternoon, Day received treatment for a disk issue then delivered a message by driving the 381-yard, par-4 first hole in his match against Thongchai Jaidee.
Men with bad backs can’t do that. Most men with good backs can’t do that.
“A little pain but for the most part pretty good,” Day said. “If I didn’t play today, I was going to pull out of the tournament totally. I may as well get the rest and the recovery and try to get ready for Augusta.”
* Victor Dubuisson didn’t do anything in his 5-and-4 loss to Jordan Spieth to convince captain Darren Clarke that he belongs on the European Ryder Cup team.
Dubuisson surrendered long before the match was over, even quick-hitting a chip shot when he still had a chance to halve a hole. Dubuisson didn’t have to say a word. His body language was screaming for him.
* Weirdest swing of the day belonged to Daniel Berger, who whiffed his second shot on the par-4 18th hole when his club struck some stacked rocks on his downswing.
Berger was even with Mickelson playing the final hole of their match and, after taking an extraordinary amount of time deciding how he wanted to play the shot, Berger whacked the rocks, his club went flying and his wrist started hurting. He conceded the hole and is scheduled to play Matthew Fitzpatrick on Friday with neither able to advance to weekend play.
“I wouldn’t play if my wrist doesn’t feel good, not with The Masters coming up,” Berger said.
* Friday’s schedule includes four matches between players who are 2-0:
Oosthuizen vs. Sullivan; Reed vs. Mickelson; Rose vs. Kuchar; and McIlroy vs. Na.
Mickelson has won his two matches but spent part of Thursday afternoon in a practice session with his coach Andrew Getson because he was unhappy with his ballstriking in his match against Berger.
Reed, also 2-0 this week, is a match-play terror and will play Mickelson with a spot in the weekend bracket at stake.
“I love it. I love match play,” Reed said. “Just one of these things that I’ve always loved. I seem to do it pretty well.”
Meanwhile, Spieth advances to the round of 16 with a win or tie against Thomas, who is 0-2 this week. Spieth also could advance with a loss if Jamie Donaldson does not win his match.
Regardless of the stakes, Spieth and Thomas love getting after each other, a friendly rivalry that is a blend of fun and fire.
“I think we both want to beat each other,” Spieth said. “We obviously have a ton of respect for each other and each other’s games. We have since we were 14 years old. He’ll want to beat me bad. … That’s kind of just who we are.”