CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Welcome to the First Annual Jordan Spieth Chase For History.
For the record, “first” and “annual” aren’t supposed to go together in the same sentence. By definition, English teachers say, no event is annual until its second edition.
But let’s get ahead of the curve here and consider the odds, which say Our Man Spieth won’t win the only major he hasn’t already captured, the PGA Championship, and complete the career Grand Slam in his first attempt a few weeks after he turned 24 (“Spieth intends to ‘go get that’ 4th major,” Aug. 10, http://bit.ly/2uvhbxv).
This game isn’t that easy unless you’re nicknamed after a ferocious jungle animal with stripes.
That said, Spieth just might do it, anyway. It was tempting to count him out Thursday when he bogeyed three of the first six holes on his second nine at Quail Hollow Club to plummet to 3 over par and dangerously close to out of contention at the 99th PGA (scores: http://bit.ly/2upkvKk).
But this is The Amazing Spieth, the guy who pulled the Open out of a hat at Royal Birkdale with some final-round magic that involved a risky shot from the practice range, a birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie spurt and, for all we know, a white rabbit.
With his back against the wall through 15 holes on Day One of the First Annual Jordan Spieth Chase For History here, Spieth missed an eagle putt at the par-5 seventh (his 16th hole) but got his birdie, then birdied the No. 8 and parred the ninth. He salvaged a 72, 1 over par, and because Quail Hollow played tough – no one went lower than the 67s by Thorbjorn Olesen and Kevin Kisner – Spieth is still in it.
Back from the brink of 3 over? No sweat. Has Spieth ever done anything boring? He wins with flair. Such as Birkdale or the bounceback from that shocking double bogey on the 71st hole at Chambers Bay to win the 2015 U.S. Open. He loses with flair. His Amen Corner meltdown at Augusta last year or his bogey-par finish to miss a playoff at St. Andrews in the 2015 British Open after holing an incredible birdie putt at the 16th to keep alive his chances for the Grand Slam – the single-year kind that even Tiger Woods didn’t quite get.
Spieth is never going to win a PGA by eight shots the way Rory McIlroy did in 2012. It wouldn’t be as much fun, anyway. So treat this PGA Championship like an NBA game. The first 3½ quarters are mere appetizers. The real game, unless your team is down by 25, starts in the final five minutes. Don’t worry about Spieth until the back nine on Sunday.
There were good and bad omens for him in this opening round. In fact, it’s hard to tell them apart. Is it good or bad that Spieth drove it well, normally his Achilles’ heel, but still shot 1 over par? It’s good if he continues driving it well. It’s bad if he starts driving it worse.
Then there’s his putting. The stats say he needed only 22 putts. That sounds like a great putting day. Actually, it was just the opposite. Remember, we’re grading here on the Jordan Putting Curve, which is markedly higher than normal.
“I created three two-putts that were three three-putts,” said Spieth, who putted from the fringe in each case and thus didn’t have it count against his statistics. “They were hard putts, but I’d say the average would be 1 over par on those three. Instead, I was 3. It was just the putter today.”
Is it a bad omen that Spieth didn’t putt well? Does it mean that he might not have the game’s deadliest weapon holstered in his bag this week? Or is it a good omen that he didn’t putt well because, come on, this man can only putt better the next three days?
“If you told me I was going to hit my driver the way I did today, I definitely would have thought I’d shot a few under par,” Spieth said. “I can’t putt any worse than I did today.”
The other wild card is that Spieth likes being a frontrunner with the lead. He finds it an easier way to win. A slow start places more pressure on him for Friday afternoon’s second round and, in turn, the third round.
The slow start also means Spieth is behind some notables you’d rather not have to catch, such as U.S. Open champ Brooks Koepka, who shot 68, and Dustin Johnson, who shot 70. Those three were paired Thursday as a cute grouping of the past three Open champions.
“Jordan didn’t make as many putts as he usually does,” Koepka said. “His speed was a little bit off.”
What’s that mean? Nothing yet. Spieth’s chase has only just begun, whether it’s for one or years to come.
Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle