News & Opinion

Spieth chases Woods aura in Tour finale

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Jordan Spieth is no Tiger Woods, but he continues to draw closer to the Woods mystique, which adds to the intrigue of this week’s Tour Championship.

After a final-round 6-under 65 on Sunday at the BMW Championship, the third leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs, Spieth tied for seventh and maintained his lead in the points race entering the season finale in Atlanta (scores: http://bit.ly/1j3khNH; standings: http://bit.ly/1LfD1p0).

It’s hardly surprising that Spieth holds the top spot. He started the playoffs four weeks ago atop the FedEx Cup points list. Spieth lost the playoff opener, The Northern Trust, in a sudden-death playoff to Dustin Johnson. A week later, Spieth finished runner-up to Justin Thomas in the Dell Technologies Championship.  

With his work in suburban Chicago, Spieth has positioned himself for a second FedEx Cup championship. He would be only the second player in the 11-year history of the Tour’s playoffs to win it twice, joining Woods.

As with any sport, when a superstar retires, the search for the replacement begins immediately. The injury-prone Woods, 41, has not retired, but he has not competed since early February. When he finally returns, he likely won’t be close to the level of his glorious past.

So, fans, media and the Tour have been looking for Woods’ heir apparent.

Spieth became part of that conversation after his tremendous 2015 season, with major victories at the Masters and U.S. Open and three other PGA Tour events that included the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup title.

Spieth seemed on track to replace Woods as the Tour’s brightest star, but a winless 2016 major season – he did claim two other events – reset him and the golfing world.

This season, Spieth won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am early, claimed the Travelers Championship title in the summer and then added to his big-game legend with an improbable recovery to win the British Open. With his lead position entering the Tour Championship, the Woods comparisons have started anew.

“You just have more scenarios,” Spieth, 24, said after the BMW Championship. “I'm not even going to look into the math. I don't care. I'm sure I'll be asked about it, and I'll be presented with enough information that I don't need to do it on my own. Point is, if you win that week, it doesn't matter.”

When Spieth won the FedEx Cup in 2015, he entered the Tour Championship trailing Jason Day and knew that Day would be somewhere in the mix, so his only guaranteed chance to win the cup was to win the tournament.

“So, the more I focus on being at No. 1, which obviously was the goal, the more I focus on it I think it hurts me,” Spieth said. “I go into next week trying to work my way up the leaderboard early.”

With a victory at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Spieth likely would win the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average for the season and challenge Thomas, who has five victories, for player of the year. Spieth places a special emphasis on the POY award, which is decided by a vote among the Tour players.

“I find a Player of the Year Award greater than a FedEx Cup,” Spieth said.

In 2015, Spieth voted for himself as POY. With Thomas’ victories this season, which includes the PGA Championship, would Spieth vote for himself again if he were to win in Atlanta?

“That would be tough,” Spieth said. “I'd have to look statistically in the entire year that we just had, because I don't know it. The guy [Thomas] shot 59 this year [en route to winning the Sony Open in Hawaii] and shot 63 at the U.S. Open. He's had some awards mid-year that I haven't had this year, but we'll see.”

For the record, Woods won nine Vardon trophies and owns 79 PGA Tour victories, including 14 major titles.

Spieth owns one Vardon Trophy and 11 Tour victories, including three majors.

Spieth clearly has a long way to go to catch Woods, but with a victory this week in Atlanta, who else would you look to fill the void? 

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli