By Andrew Both
(Reuters) – Masters champions Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth enter this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play desperately seeking to break out of slumps as they prepare for the year’s first major championship in a fortnight.
Both looking for a spark as the annual trip to Augusta approaches, the Americans will be sternly tested in the fiery cauldron of match play at the five-day tournament at Austin Country Club in Texas.
After a solid start to the year, reigning Masters champion Reed has suddenly gone off the boil.
He finished a mediocre equal 47th at the Players Championship two weeks ago, before shooting scores of 77 and 75 at the Valspar Championship last week to miss the cut by a country mile.
Alarmed, he put out an SOS to renowned instructor David Leadbetter, who has quickly agreed to work with the defending Masters champion.
Leadbetter first made his name by reconstructing Nick Faldo’s swing back in the mid 1980s, which set the stage for the Englishman to win six major titles.
His other clients have included former world number one Nick Price and child prodigy Michelle Wie.
Spieth, meanwhile, is enduring the first prolonged slump of his still young career and has not had a top 30 finish all year.
“Everyone goes through ups and downs in every part of their game,” the 2015 Masters champion said on Tuesday.
“I maybe started to get over-analytical and a little too emotional instead of figuring what got off, where it got off and how to get better.”
Spieth plays fellow American Billy Horschel on Wednesday, while Reed faces compatriot Andrew Putnam.
Tiger Woods, in his first match play appearance since 2013, plays Aaron Wise, while Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy is up against long-hitting American Luke List.
This will be McIlroy’s only appearance between his Players Championship victory and the Masters, where he will have a chance to complete the career grand slam.
McIlroy said there were two ways to approach match play.
“You play the person, or you play the course and you don’t really react or respond to who you’re playing against,” he said.
“Every match, it’s like you’re playing in contention with something on the line. I don’t want to call it a practice week but at the same time it’s a good test to make sure your head’s in the right place.”
The match play is no longer a knockout event from day one.
Instead, the 64 players have been divided into 16 groups of four.
Everyone plays everyone else in their group over the first three days, after which the player with the best record in each group advances to the 16-man knockout phase over the weekend.
Woods and McIlroy will face off in the round-of-16 on Saturday if they win their respective groups.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Nick Mulvenney)