For many players this week, the WGC-Dell Match Play is more like the Masters Tournament Tune-up

March 21, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas — The official name of this week’s World Golf Championship event is the Dell Technologies Match Play, but for many players the event may as well be called the Masters Tournament Tune-up.

“You want every tournament to be relevant and have its own week,” said defending champion Jason Day. “But obviously some weeks are overshadowed by a major championship.”

As Jordan Spieth strolled the hilly confines of Austin Country Club on Tuesday, he was asked if the Masters was on his mind.

“Certainly it is,” he said, on a course where he played dozens of rounds during his one year of college golf at the nearby University of Texas. “I’m thinking about it more and more as we get closer.”

Make no mistake: players were grinding hard during their Tuesday practice rounds as they prepped for the round of three-day pool play, but it was clear many of the top ranked pros had Georgia on their minds.

“It’s gaining confidence more than anything than anything else,” said Justin Thomas, who has already won three times on the still-young wrap-around season but has hit a recent lull with three missed cuts in the last five weeks. “I think just gaining some confidence (this week) would be definitely big for me and whatever the result is, it is.”

Case in point: J. Day. In 2016, the Aussie star left Austin Country Club with his second-career match-play title after an impressive 5-and-4 victory over Louis Oosthuizen, along with a load of self-assurance heading to Augusta.

“Pretty high” was how he described his state of confidence this time last year. “Leading into [the Masters] everything was rolling — I was chipping it well, hitting great putts, everything was really set.”

Whether he felt rested is another question. Day said he retreated home after that week and didn’t touch a club for four days. “A week should be enough to rest up for a victory like this, but golf is a finicky find of a game,” he said.

He went on to tie for 10th in the Masters but never scared the leaders.

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson — who’s not prone to worrying — said he wasn’t concerned about exhausting himself by playing this week and next at the Shell Houston Open. DJ said he prefers to play his way into contention for Augusta, using the same plan he executed before last year’s breakthrough U.S. Open win at Oakmont.

“You got to hit good golf shots no matter if you’re in Austin, Houston or Augusta,” he said. “That’s all I’m looking to do here.”