In a showdown that turned sloppy, Patrick Reed nearly holed a wedge to seize control and finished off Jordan Spieth with a 40-foot birdie putt from behind the 17th green to advance to the weekend of the Dell Technologies Match Play.
The 2-and-1 victory sent Spieth home in search of his game with the Masters just two weeks away.
Spieth hit his opening tee shot onto the range and out-of-bounds. He hit into a hazard on each of the next two holes. And when he finally caught Reed with consecutive shots to tap-in range, he missed two key putts inside six feet.
“I don’t think it would have been that tough to beat me today,” Spieth said.
Reed was tough enough, twirling a wedge in his hands as it cut into the wind and grazed the front edge of the cup on the 13th hole for a 2-up lead to take command of the match. Spieth, who three-putted for the third time on No. 15 to fall 3 down, stayed alive with an eight-foot birdie putt on the 16th and looked as though he might have a chance to go the distance when Reed’s putt was racing toward the cup at the 17th.
The cup got in the way, and all Spieth could do was smile.
“Just happened to be the perfect line,” Reed said. “Thank God, because that thing was moving.”
And now Reed is moving along into the single-elimination phase of the weekend, four matches away from another World Golf Championship. Spieth is headed to the Houston Open without a top 10 in his last seven tournaments.
“I’m human and I’m realistic that based on the way the year’s gone it’s been kind of a trying time for me, especially on and round the greens,” Spieth said. “Stuff I took for granted in setup and pace control and all that kind of stuff has been a little bit more difficult. And I’ve been trying to figure out how to get back to that level, and I’ve been trying different things.”
Spieth, the No. 4 seed, wasn’t the only player leaving early.
Justin Thomas (No. 2) and Sergio Garcia (No. 7) were the only top-10 seeds to advance to the fourth round. Thomas had the easiest time, a 7-and-5 victory over Francesco Molinari. And with defending champion Dustin Johnson already eliminated, Thomas can go to No. 1 in the world if he wins this week.
But there’s a long way to go.
Asked how he felt going into the weekend, Thomas replied, “The same as the other 16 guys. We all start at the same place.”
Paul Casey might have had the toughest day: He lost twice.
Casey only had to halve his match to advance for the third time in four years. He lost to Matt Fitzpatrick, and even then had a chance to win his group if the other match was halved. Instead, Kyle Stanley made an 8-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to win, and then he beat Casey on the second hole of a playoff.
Tyrrell Hatton also was forced into a playoff, and he beat Brendan Steele on the first extra hole.
Rory McIlroy still had a chance until he lost to Brian Harman. Phil Mickelson was eliminated when Charles Howell III, who beat Lefty on Wednesday, completed a 3-0 mark in group play by beating Satoshi Kodaira.
Howell and Ian Poulter, who swept his matches when Kevin Chappell conceded at the turn with a back injury, still have a chance to earn a spot in the Masters by getting into the top 50 at the end of the week. They both need to win at least one more match.
The tightest match was Alex Noren and Tony Finau, one of four matches between players who had not lost all week. Finau won three straight holes on the back nine to take a 1-up lead, only to lose the 14th with a bogey. With the match all square, Noren made a 10-foot birdie at the 17th to go 1 up, and then holed a 15-foot par putt on the final hole to avoid going to a playoff with Finau.
Noren now has won seven of his last eight matches in his event, his only loss coming to Johnson in the quarterfinals last year.
In other groups:
— Garcia won on the 17th hole against Xander Schauffele and won his group for the first time since it switched to pool play in 2014. He also becomes the home favorite from living part-time in Austin, where his wife gave birth to their first child last week.
— Si Woo Kim outlasted Webb Simpson on the 18th hole to advance.
— Matt Kuchar made a hole-in-one in a 6-and-4 victory over Ross Fisher to advance to the weekend for the second time in three years.
— Bubba Watson birdied his last two holes to earn a halve against Julian Suri and avoid a playoff. Watson next faces Harman, a match of Georgia lefties.
— Louis Oosthuizen beat Jason Day with two clutch putts, and then won the group with a 12-foot par putt in a playoff to beat Jason Dufner. This is the third time in four years that Oosthuizen has reached the weekend.
Kerr leads by five shots at Kia Classic
Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend. The 40-year-old Kerr, the 2015 winner at Aviara in Carlsbad, had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131.
Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.
Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.
Romo finishes last in PGA debut
Tony Romo bogeyed six holes in a row to open play in the second round and shot a 10-over 82 to finish last in his PGA Tour debut.
Romo followed the opening bogey run in the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship with a double bogey on the par-four 18th. He birdied the par-five fourth and par-four sixth on the second nine, but had double bogeys on the par-three second and par-four fifth.
The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback had a 15-over 159 total — six shots worse than the next player on the leaderboard and 28 strokes behind leader Brice Garnett.
Garnett followed his opening 63 with a 68 to get to 13-under 131. Steve Wheatcroft and Keith Mitchell were a shot back, each after their second 66.