AUSTIN, Texas -- The scenario looked so promising when their names were drawn to play in the same group, the No. 1-ranked player in the world and his longtime friend who has been a few steps behind as their professional careers unfolded.
Jordan Spieth against Justin Thomas in match play was too good to be true, friends going back to their junior golf days, rivals in college, frequent practice-round partners on the PGA Tour -- as well as occasional social media protagonists.
But the script did not hold at the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship.
While Spieth and Thomas will still square off on Friday at Austin Country Club, their match will mean only bragging rights for Thomas.
Spieth went to 2-0 with a 5 and 4 victory over Victor Dubuisson on Thursday, meaning he is assured of at least a sudden-death playoff in order to advance to the final 16 players and the knockout stage.
Thomas, who won the CIMB Classic in Malaysia in November, fell to Jamie Donaldson, 2 up, and is now 0-2 after losing to Dubuisson on Wednesday. That means Spieth is assured of a sudden-death playoff even with a loss to Thomas; if that occurs, he would play off against Donaldson or Dubuisson, provided their match does not end in a tie.
"I think we both want to beat each other,'' said Spieth, who helped Texas win the NCAA title in 2012 when he defeated Thomas and Alabama. "We obviously have a ton of respect for each other and each others' games. We have since we were 14 years old. He'll want to beat me bad. ... Even if he's out of it, he'll still want to beat me.
"That's kind of just who we are. As much as I just want to halve the match [which would assure him of advancing] and stay in tomorrow and practice, I don't think he's going to want that to be the case. I'm going to have to bring my A game. With the conditions lightening up, they're going to play in his favor.''
The WGC-Match Play format, which was put into effect last year, calls for round-robin play among 16 groups of four players. The top player in each group advances to the knockout stage on Saturday.
Inevitably, that will lead to some lackluster Friday matchups, the fallout from changing the format that used to be straight knockout.
The PGA Tour did make two changes this year to try to assure more Friday drama, allowing matches to end in ties while also dropping head-to-head matchups as a tiebreaker.
"Right now, I'd rather have the old format,'' Spieth said. "I like if you beat somebody you go through. I like the head-to-head. But I understand last year there were three or four scenarios where guys were already through without playing their last match and it's not necessarily as exciting. But I still think if you beat somebody heads up you should have the advantage to go through.''
If that were the case, Spieth would already be assured of advancing.
Instead, he has a match with his buddy that is not critical -- although a victory means a 3-0 group record and no doubts about the weekend.
"With Justin, he's very capable of running off seven or eight birdies,'' Spieth said. "He's got the firepower to do so, especially in calmer conditions. In a tighter match, we're going to have to grind. Just going to have to grind and really see where that patience level is.''