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Jordan Spieth at a loss for words — and a win Thursday at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play

AUSTIN, Texas — All in all, it wasn’t the worst day Jordan Spieth has ever had.

He did avoid stepping on a scary-looking garter snake slithering across the middle of the sixth fairway.

He made a couple of new friends behind the seventh green when his tee shot flew the green, hit one gentleman in the chest, ricocheted off and smashed the cellphone of another bystander.

He made enough mistakes in his second-round match that he’s got plenty of incentive to work on his game before his Friday tee time in the World Golf Championship-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.

That said, it was pretty much a miserable day for the former Texas Longhorn great, who, despite not having his A game, managed to stay in the thick of things in his showdown with a relative unknown in Taylor Montgomery.

Once the back-and-forth match ended on the 17th green, when the Tour rookie sank his 6-foot, 4-inch birdie putt for a 2 and 1 victory — his sixth birdie of the day and second in the last three holes — Spieth’s day was over. He quickly jogged up the bordering hill, hopped in a golf cart with his caddie and whisked away without a word.

Understandably, practice beckoned.

Maybe that’s part of a new strategy for the normally loquacious Spieth. After holing out a miraculous, 85-foot flop shot on No. 15 in his 4 and 3 victory over Mackenzie Hughes on Wednesday, he said he was trying to be a little less chatty on the course.

Talk-show hosts aren’t as gabby as this guy.

“Yeah, I’ve been trying to work on just kind of hitting and playing and not talking so much. I did an OK job of that,” Spieth said Wednesday. “I would say I didn’t do a great job of that on my last hole. I was like, what am I doing hitting it over here, and then I ended up holing the shot. It doesn’t necessarily affect how I play, but it is a lot less energy used up.”

He’ll need to conserve all the energy he can.

But if he was in no mood to chat, Montgomery sure didn’t mind conversation about his moment in the sun. This marks the first appearance at the WGC-Dell event for the towering 6-3, 215-pound athlete who is ranked 57th in the world despite playing in just 18 PGA Tour events.

But he’s got game, he’s remarkably consistent and usually a solid putter if the wind isn’t gusting to 30 mph as it was Thursday. That wind made even trickier players’ reads on greens because they were slower than your normal DMV line.

So how does this win rate?

“I mean, high up there,” said Montgomery, who has four top 10s on his resume, including a third-place showing. “It’s match play, so it’s one match. But I mean, it’s really cool. One of the best players in the world, you beat him. It’s always a good thing. It’s not bad.”

It may only get better.

By the time the match ended at mid-afternoon, Montgomery had held on for the win despite huge crowds rooting for Austin’s favorite son. Totally unflappable, he never got too excited but now remains unbeaten after his two matches to take a commanding lead entering Friday’s final round of group play.

Spieth (1-1-0) will take on Ireland’s Shane Lowry, needing a win and a loss by Montgomery and a subsequent playoff victory between the two to move on to the knockout rounds. In his favor, Lowry has no momentum after losing both of his first two matches, falling 4 and 3 to Mackenzie Hughes on Thursday and 2 and 1 to Montgomery.

That’s kind of in keeping with Lowry’s track record here at the Dell. The 2019 British Open champion has a humbling 6-14-3 mark overall in WGC Match Play tournaments and 3-11-2 slate at ACC.

But that’s the beauty of this event. It’s predictable only with its unpredictability.

In the Dell’s seven-year history at ACC, a golfer seeded 32nd or lower have won the tournament as have some of the world’s best seeded 1 (Dustin Johnson), 2 (Jason Day) and 5 (Scottie Scheffler).

Maybe that could apply to Montgomery, a 28-year-old UNLV grad who’s a former basketball player. He was very self-deprecating at his post-round presser, admitting to several reporters beforehand that, “I had to ask Cameron Young how to get here.”

Spieth is obviously much better acquainted with the ACC layout — not to mention with celebrity as a 13-time PGA Tour winner — to know his way around.

Course knowledge at a place where he used to play rounds for Texas qualifying were of no help Thursday, as he had his share of troublesome adventure on more than a few holes. He three-putted on the par-3 fourth hole, drove into the water on 13, left short one putt after another and just couldn’t get into any rhythm all day.

As brilliant as his game is, the 29-year-old Texan can’t get out of his own way at times, his spectacular career with three majors notwithstanding. He hasn’t been in the winner’s circle since taking the RBC Heritage in April 2022 but has been oh-so-close with three top-six finishes at Valspar, Bay Hill and Phoenix and still ranks 14th in the world.

Struggling here, however, is not exactly new for him here at ACC at a tournament he’d love to win in his old college backyard.

In eight previous Dell appearances, Spieth has emerged from the round-robin stage only three times but never beyond the quarterfinal round on Saturday. He’s lost to veterans Ernie Els, Louis Oosthuizen and Matt Kuchar in the playoffs.

At no time was Spieth more Spiethian than the seventh hole, where a wind gust airmailed his tee shot over the green and struck one man below the right shoulder before it caromed off and smashed another’s phone.

At least, Jake Galloway got something for his troubles.

“Yeah, he gave me a glove,” the 24-year-old from Houston said. “How cool is that?”

Galloway didn’t tell the former Longhorn he’s a Texas A&M grad. At least, he got a souvenir. Mike Vaccariello just got a sore chest.

“I love Jordan Spieth,” the fan from Strongville, Ohio, said. “I would like to get a glove, too, though.”

That’s not all that unusual because Spieth hit another fan to help him make the cut at the Players Championship and rewarded him with free tickets and an autographed flag.

Nor was his eventual outcome on the hole because he found his ball hugging a huge limestone boulder in the mulch behind the green. As per the best scrambler in the game, he hit a bad chip that raced past the pin but recovered nicely and drained a 30-foot putt to a huge ovation for one of the best par saves of the day.

“Oh, I knew it was coming,” Montgomery said. “I told my caddie we need to make this putt, and I feel like he’s going to make par. Sure enough, he did. Jordan doing Jordan things.”

He’ll have to do a few more Jordan things on Friday with any hope of surviving and advancing. But he’ll also need some help in derailing Montgomery to give him something to really talk about.

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