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Jordan Spieth outlasts Jamie Donaldson to open Match Play

AUSTIN, Texas -- The top-ranked player in the world and No. 1 seed in the Dell Match Play, Jordan Spieth still needed a boost after a recent dip in form.

He got a good one Wednesday with a 3-and-2 victory over Jamie Donaldson in their round-robin opener at Austin Country Club.

Navigating the windy, undulating Texas Hill Country course he frequently played during his year and a half at the University of Texas, Spieth, 22, heard plenty of "Hook'em Horns!" cheers and high-fived a toddler in the home crowd excited to the see him return to familiar ground.

"It's fantastic," Spieth said about his return to his college town. "I'm in love with Austin. It's maybe my favorite city in the world."

Like the rest of the field, Spieth is trying to fine-tune his game for the Masters in two weeks. He won there last year with a four-stroke victory over Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose. And he'll stay another week in Texas for the Houston Open before heading to Augusta.

Despite his world ranking and one victory already this season, Spieth hasn't finished better than a tie for 17th in his last four tournaments and missed the cut last month at the Northern Trust Open.

Spieth's win Wednesday was decisive, even if it wasn't always crisp. He charged into the round, winning four of the first seven holes against Donaldson, his Welsh opponent who was one of the stars in the Europeans' 2014 Ryder Cup victory.

"I played the first seven holes or so perfectly," Spieth said. "That's pretty commanding. I was very pleased with that. I didn't back down, I kept hitting driver. I kept on going for stuff, almost too much."

Donaldson reeled him in by winning two of the next five holes, but missed a chance to really tighten things up when Spieth earned a critical halve on No. 12 after hitting his second shot into the water.

"I just made some really poor decisions to let him back into the match. Fortunately stuck through it," Spieth said. "He's a very tough match-play player ... knew there wasn't going to be give-up after four down."

A missed read on a mid-range birdie putt on the first hole sent him into an animated discussion with caddie Michael Greller while Donaldson putted. On No. 5, Spieth stopped in the backswing of his putt, resettled and made a 3-footer to win the hole and go 3-up.

Spieth closed out the match with a birdie on the par-5 16th. Donaldson's tee shot ballooned in the wind and his aggressive play into the green flew into a backside bunker.

Donaldson had to play with almost all of the cheers going to Spieth, even when he hit his best shots.

When Donaldson birdied the par-3 fourth hole, the gallery, which couldn't see the ball drop on the elevated green, didn't utter a sound. Donaldson's caddie, Mick Donaghy, cupped his right ear with his hand as if to ask for a response, but got nothing in response as the crowd and the players headed to the next tee.

"It's almost like a home Ryder Cup match," Spieth said. "They weren't cheering when putts were missed, everyone was very respectful, but every step I took, somebody was yelling or cheering 'Hook'em Horns' or 'Go Jordan,' which is really, really cool."

After the round, Spieth went straight to the practice green. He will face Victor Dubuisson on Thursday and finish group play Friday against Justin Thomas. Dubuisson beat Thomas 3 and 2 on Wednesday.

Rory McIlroy had three close calls on his way to victory last year at Harding Park. He started out with one in Texas. McIlroy never led until he won the 18th hole with a par. Thorbjorn Olesen missed a 3-foot putt on the 16th, and with the match all square on the 18th, Olesen shanked a chip to hand McIlroy the match.

"Match play is all about just getting through," McIlroy said.

Rickie Fowler, the No. 5 seed, failed to do that. He rallied from 3 down on the back nine to square his match on the 15th hole, only for Jason Dufner to win the next two holes with birdies to beat him on the 17th hole.

Martin Kaymer rode the wind and drove the green on the 376-yard 18th hole to wrap up a 1-up victory over Shane Lowry.

Dustin Johnson (No. 8) lost to Robert Streb, and Hideki Matsuyama (No. 12) lost to Rafa Cabrera-Bello. Adam Scott (No. 6), who has lost seven straight matches in this event, had to settle for a halve with Thomas Pieters of Belgium. Players and caddies wore black ribbons in their caps to honor the victim of Tuesday's bombings in Brussels.

In the round-robin format, all of the players still have a chance to advance from their groups and reach the knockout stage. A year ago, only three players who lost in the first round managed to reach the round of 16. It might be easier this year because there are halves during group play.

Bubba Watson (No. 4) was among six players whose matches ended in a draw.

Mickelson, playing this World Golf Championship for the first time in five years, ran off three birdies in a four-hole stretch on the front nine to build a big lead and Matthew Fitzpatrick couldn't catch up. The match ended on the 14th hole. Matt Kuchar had the shortest match, a 6-and-5 victory over Anirban Lahiri, who flew to Texas from a runner-up finish in India.

Lacking on a warm, blustery day were the number of great shots typically seen in match play. Part of that was Austin Country Club, unknown to just about everyone except for Spieth and Dufner, whose coach lives in Austin.

Said Dufner, "I think everybody is kind of feeling out how it's going to be this week."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.