JIM VERTUNO, AP Sports Writer
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The top-ranked player in the world and No. 1 seed in the Dell Match Play, Jordan Spieth still needed a boost after a recent dip in form.
He got a good one Wednesday with a 3-and-2 victory over Jamie Donaldson in their round-robin opener at Austin Country Club.
Navigating the windy, undulating Texas Hill Country course he frequently played during his year and a half at the University of Texas, Spieth heard plenty of “Hook’em Horns!” cheers and high-fived a toddler in the home crowd excited to the see the 22-year-old return to familiar ground.
“It’s fantastic,” Spieth said about his return to his college town. “I’m in love with Austin. It’s maybe my favorite city in the world.”
Like the rest of the field, Spieth is trying to fine-tune his game for the Masters in two weeks. He won there last year with a four-stroke victory over Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose. And he’ll stay another week in Texas for the Houston Open before heading to Augusta.
Despite his world ranking and one victory already this season, Spieth hasn’t finished better than a tie for 17th in his last four tournaments and missed the cut last month at the Northern Trust Open.
Spieth’s win Wednesday was decisive, even if it wasn’t always crisp. He charged into the round, winning four of the first seven holes against his Welsh opponent who was one of the stars in the Europeans’ 2014 Ryder Cup victory.
“I played the first seven holes or so perfectly. That’s pretty commanding. I was very pleased with that,” Spieth said. “I didn’t back down, I kept hitting driver. I kept on going for stuff, almost too much.
Donaldson reeled him in by winning two of the next five holes, but missed a chance to really tighten things up when Spieth earned a critical halve on No. 12 after hitting his second shot into the water.
“I just made some really poor decisions to let him back into the match. Fortunately stuck through it,” Spieth said. “H’s a very tough match-play player … knew there wasn’t going to be give-up after four down.”
A missed read on a midrange birdie putt on the first hole sent him into an animated discussion with caddie Michael Greller while Donaldson putted. On No. 5, Spieth stopped in the backswing of his putt, resettled and made a 3-footer to win the hole and go 3-up.
Spieth closed out the match with a birdie on the par-5 16th. Donaldson’s tee shot ballooned in the wind and his aggressive play into the green flew into a backside bunker.
Donaldson had to play with almost all of the cheers going to Spieth, even when he hit his best shots.
When Donaldson birdied the par-3 fourth hole, the gallery, which couldn’t see the ball drop on the elevated green, didn’t utter a sound. Donaldson’s caddie, Mick Donaghy, cupped his right ear with his hand as if to ask for a response, but got nothing in response as the crowd and the players headed to the next tee.
“It almost like a home Ryder Cup match,” Spieth said. “They weren’t cheering when putts were missed, everyone was very respectful, but every step I took, somebody was yelling or cheering ‘Hook’em Horns’ or ‘Go Jordan,’ which is really, really cool.”
After the round, Spieth went straight to the practice green. He will face Victor Dubuisson on Thursday and finish group play Friday against Justin Thomas. Dubuisson beat Thomas 3 and 2 on Wednesday.