Jordan Spieth, the former Texas Longhorns star, cracked jokes Thursday afternoon after his second win in as many days at the WGC-Dell Match Play championship.
He was both self-aware and self-deprecating after his easy round that ended on the 16th green when he clinched his match against China's HaoTong Li, 4 and 2.
Maybe Spieth, the fourth seed, should be the favorite to win the tournament now that Dustin Johnson, the 2017 champion, and Jon Rahm, the runner-up last year, took themselves out of the running with two poor rounds.
Spieth had an early tee time Thursday. He had lots of time to kick up his feet and refuel for his Friday matchup against Patrick Reed.
Reed, a teammate of Spieth's for the Ryder Cup, also is 2-0 in pod play.
"I played better golf today," Spieth said. "It was great to see. And I was rolling it a bit better on the greens. And then overall, scorewise, was better in what I thought were tougher conditions. I thought yesterday was more gettable."
Gusty south winds and warmer weather made the course a bit trickier Thursday. Spieth sported four birdies, including three in a row on the front nine. His 2-foot putt for birdie on No. 13, the picturesque par 4 that runs parallel with Lake Austin, broke open what had been a fairly tight match with Li, who is seeded No. 34.
Spieth was in far better shape than the pre-tournament favorites.
Johnson, the world's No 1, remains winless at this year's tournament. Canadian Adam Hadwin beat Johnson 4 and 3 Thursday afternoon. If there was a positive, it was that Johnson fared better during Thursday's round that included three birdies and a bogey. Johnson opened play Wednesday with a loss to Austrian Bernd Wiesberger. Johnson carded two double bogeys and a quadruple bogey to lose 3 and 1.
Rahm, who is seeded third here, lost his match to Chez Reavie 1-up. Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat, the No. 28 seed, took control of the pod when he made his 13-foot putt for birdie on the 18th to clinch his match against Keegan Bradley.
Marc Leishman, who is the 11th seed, also lost his second straight match, taking himself out of contention for the weekend's knockout rounds.
The last of the preliminary matches are Friday. The field will be cut to 16 for Saturday morning's play, with the quarterfinals following in the afternoon. The semifinals and final are Sunday.
Justin Thomas, the tournament's second seed, won his second straight match, beating Patton Kizzire 3 and 1. Thomas and Kizzire are the only two-time winners on the PGA Tour this season.
Before this week, Thomas, the defending PGA champion, hadn't fared well in Austin's match-play format. He's now 3-5 in his career.
Defending Masters champion Sergio Garcia, for the second straight day, secured a dramatic win on 18. On Thursday, he beat former Longhorn Dylan Frittelli.
"Fortunately, I had four birdes and no bogeys on the back nine," Garcia said. "The golf course is playing harder and harder every day."
Some of the tournament's bigger names surged Thursday during the more difficult conditions after poor starts to open pool play.
Rory McIlroy, the tournament's sixth seed, evened his record at 1-1 with a 2-and-1 victory over former Longhorn Jhonattan Vegas.
Phil Mickelson, who was four holes down after the seventh hole, made five birdies on the back nine to nip Satoshi Kodaira. Mickelson clinched with an 18-foot birdie on the 18th.
Tommy Fleetwood, who is seeded ninth, bounced back from a Wednesday loss with a throttling of Kevin Chappell. Fleetwood won 7 and 6.
Jason Day, who won the tournament in 2016, fell to Jason Dufner 3 and 1. Day's record heading into Friday's final round of group play is 1-1. The other three players in the pod also are 1-1.
Spieth will need to win Friday to advance. In 2016, the first year the tournament was in Austin, Spieth was perfect in pod play, suffering his first loss in the round of 16. A year ago, Spieth was a mundane 1-1-1 and went home after three days.
"In a format like this, no one plays great golf every single match," Spieth said. "Hopefully, whatever we are doing keeps clicking."
This article is written by Suzanne Halliburton from Austin American-Statesman and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.