Posted by: Mike Cornelius | August 20, 2020

Jordan Spieth Gives Fans An Hour To Remember

Maybe this will be the week for Jordan Spieth. Perhaps this is the week when the one-time wunderkind again finds the form that allowed him to rocket from turning pro in 2013 to winning a pair of majors and becoming the number one ranked golfer in the world just two years later. In his incredible 2015 season Spieth, who had claimed his first Tour victory at the John Deere Classic while still a teenager in his rookie Tour season, added a second title at the Tour stop in Tampa in March, won the Masters by four shots in April, and then captured the U.S. Open in June, prevailing by one stroke over Dustin Johnson on the moonscape of a golf course known as Chambers Bay. He won the John Deere for the second time a month later, just before his birthday. Then, at the advanced age of twenty-two, Spieth finished second at the PGA Championship in August, which took him to the top of the world rankings, and capped the year off with a four-shot victory at the season-ending Tour Championship.

Spieth posted two more wins the following year and won three times in 2017. The last of those was a three-shot victory in the Open Championship, where he outdueled playing partner Matt Kuchar over the final trip around Royal Birkdale’s links, holding firm to the lead he had slept on after 54 holes. That third major win put Spieth on the cusp of the career grand slam, immediately imbuing every subsequent PGA Championship with added meaning.

But four PGA’s have been played since then, and both Spieth and his many followers among golf fans are still waiting for that career-defining victory. Earlier this month, in the 2020 edition played at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, Spieth finished in a tie for 71st place, 17 strokes behind winner Collin Morikawa. He had completed play and signed for his 76 before the leaders even teed off that Sunday, having bested just five players on the final leader board. And as his fans know all too well, Spieth’s victory drought hasn’t been limited to just the PGA Championship or even the majors. That 2017 summertime triumph at Royal Birkdale remains Spieth’s last win on Tour.

As was noted in this space  when we last checked in on Spieth back in February, he doesn’t fit the typical image of a touring pro, smashing impossibly long drives off every tee. So far this year he ranks 55th on the Tour in driving distance, a position that is hardly imposing but is actually a significant improvement over his usual standing. Rather Spieth’s strengths have always been his accuracy, his short game, and especially his putting, all of which have deserted him during the skid that now stretches to more than three years. This season Spieth ranks 202nd in driving accuracy, 203rd in greens in regulation, and 106th in strokes gained putting.

The PGA Tour is at TPC Boston this week for the Northern Trust, the first of three FedEx Cup Playoff events. In any other year On Sports and Life would be reporting from the scene, walking the expansive layout in Norton Massachusetts with other fans. That’s not an option this year, but at least there is a familiarity with the course when watching the tournament on television or even just looking at numbers on a player’s scorecard.

In Friday’s first round, Spieth had plenty of shots to remind one of the reasons for his continuing woes. Starting on the par-4 10th hole, he sent his opening drive far right of the fairway, into trees and undergrowth that block the view of players and spectators from a maintenance yard to the right of the hole. His attempt at a recovery only made matters worse, as he sent his second shot all the way across the fairway into the left rough. From there he missed the green long and right, hit an indifferent chip onto the putting surface, and finally two-putted for double-bogey. Several holes later, he three-putted from 25 feet on the 17th green, wasting a solid drive and workmanlike approach shot on the dogleg left par-4. On his second nine he put his drive on the uphill 5th hole into a fairway bunker, from which he had no choice but to chip out, leading to another bogey. Then just before finishing, he offset a birdie at the par-5 7th by ramming his first putt 9 feet past the hole at the short 8th hole, leading to another three-putt bogey.

Yet in the middle of the round Spieth played like it was 2015. The 18th at TPC Boston, his ninth hole of the day, is a dogleg par-5 that plays as the easiest hole on the course for the pros. Spieth hit a 300-yard drive that came to rest on the left side of the fairway, and his second from 228 yards easily cleared the cross-hazard in front of the green, stopping 18 feet from the hole. Spieth then rolled the eagle putt into the center of the cup, cancelling out his opening double. After the long walk through the woods to the 1st tee, Spieth again found the fairway with his drive, then stuck a wedge 6 feet from the cup and made the putt for birdie. The par-5 2nd hole yielded another birdie, as did the par-3 3rd, which is all carry over a tee-to-green hazard. Then at the drivable par-4 4th hole, Spieth found the putting surface with his tee shot, hit a perfect lag putt from 40 feet, and tapped in to shave six shots from par in just five holes.

Of course, that stretch of grand golf was nearly offset by the shoddy play that both preceded and followed it. In the end Spieth signed for a 2-under par round of 69, five strokes adrift of the four golfers who are tied at the top after the Northern Trust’s first round. In a tie for 53rd place, he probably needs to at least replicate his score on Friday to be assured of making the cut. And simply making the cut is not what either Spieth or his many fans want to settle for as a goal. But the three-time major champion and former world number one, who is, as it is so easy to forget, still only 27 years old, has been telling reporters that he’s gradually rebuilding trust in his game. For about an hour on Thursday he reminded fans of just how good that game can be, kindling memories of the past and offering promise for the future.

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