SAN FRANCISCO — Masters champion Jordan Spieth had to play good golf for an easy time Wednesday in the Match Play Championship. Unlike last year, it meant only that he was off to a good start in a tournament that won’t have any clarity until players start packing their bags.
Spieth made six birdies, including a seven-iron to four feet on the par-three 13th for some breathing room, and closed out Finland’s Mikko Ilonen on the 16th hole at TPC Harding Park.
Top-ranked Rory McIlroy had no trouble in a 5-and-4 victory over former PGA champion Jason Dufner.
As usual, plenty of big names lost early.
Defending champion Jason Day struggled off the tee and lost to Charley Hoffman. Justin Rose lost to Mark Leishman. Henrik Stenson and Jimmy Walker lost in extra holes. Matt Kuchar lost when Ben Martin made a hole in one on the 17th hole and they matched pars on the 18th.
Instead of going home, they have some hope.
The format this year is 16 four-man groups in round-robin play, with the winner of each group advancing to the round of 16 on the weekend.
The 32 losers still had two more matches, but Thursday’s round became even more critical. It’s possible they can be eliminated Thursday. It’s possible their Friday matches will be meaningless. And yet all of them can still advance, although they will need some help.
“A lot has to work out now,” Kuchar said.
Spieth played as though nothing had changed from a year ago. He told caddie Michael Greller not to check the painted dots on the greens that would indicate the pin positions for the Thursday rounds.
“I wanted us to look at it like it was win or go home,” Spieth said. “I think I did see him checking on a couple of them. But I wanted that to be our mind-set. There’s going to be a lot of 2-1 scenarios in each group, so it’s best not to worry about anything else.”
Rose, coming off a victory Sunday in New Orleans, still wasn’t sure what to think about the new format.
“Maybe I’d rather go home,” he said. “I don’t feel very hopeful right now, but I have a shot. So I guess that’s a good thing.”