AUSTIN (Texas) • With his Masters title defence a fortnight away, Jordan Spieth was puzzled by the swing troubles that contributed to his early exit from golf's WGC Matchplay in Austin on Saturday.
The Texan had never trailed in his three round-robin matches, but was dispatched 4 and 2 by Louis Oosthuizen in the round of 16.
A former Open champion but still, curiously, one of the most underrated players in this sport, the South African was typically nerveless in seeing off the world No. 1.
On the course, Spieth was more agitated than has been the case for some time. Typically, by the time he addressed the media, full composure had been restored.
The 22-year-old explained the seeds of an impending defeat had been sewn during his warm-up session, where he struggled.
Number of weeks Jason Day topped the world rankings last year
"It is frustrating when you are so uncomfortable over the ball," he said. "I got to the range this morning and I was hitting some slices with my irons, which is bizarre. I never really get that. I tried to fix it on the range and didn't really know what was up. It is something minor I think; maybe posture or alignment.
"I'd swing what felt like normal, I'd look up and the ball was going way off. So I just tried to compensate on the golf course. I got away with it on the first couple of holes and then it got the better of me.
"It was really an off day. I'd like my off days to be a little more consistent than they have been of late. On the first hole, I sliced it off the tee, and kind of went from there."
His exit, coupled with Jason Day's later quarter-final victory, means the Australian will take Spieth's No. 1 world ranking this week.
Day, who has been bothered by a back problem, still beat Brandt Snedeker 3 and 2 in the last 16 and then Brooks Koepka in the quarter-finals by the same score.
Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy, the defending champion, followed a 1-up win over Zach Johnson by defeating Chris Kirk 4 and 3 to set up his first ever match play encounter with Day. Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open winner, will face Spain's Rafa Cabrera-Bello in the other semi-final.
Spieth officially finished the week tied for ninth - ending a streak of four starts without a top 10 finish.
It is his first top 10 since a runner-up finish at the Singapore Open in January and first on the US PGA Tour since he opened the year with a victory at the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.
Nevertheless, Spieth said he feels more confident about the year's first Major at Augusta National next month after four days of pressure-packed match play.
"I played very, very solid the last few days and most importantly I made a lot of birdies. That's something I haven't been doing as of late, capitalising when I do hit those good wedges or iron shots in," the American said.
He said it might be no bad thing Day returns to the top of the rankings, with the spotlight on the Australian heading into the Masters.
Spieth said he would now turn his attention towards this week's Masters tune-up - the Houston Open. He was second in Houston last year the week before he won at Augusta National.
The American was confident that his swing would be sorted by the time he hit the practice range today. "I just need to try to figure out what (the problem) was so if it happens again I can fix it a little easier than I did today," he said.
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE