AUGUSTA, Ga. – Golf is not a game of perfect.
Even when a player wins, he generally has only persevered better than his competitors.
For five holes Thursday, Jordan Spieth was as close to perfect as any player who has walked the second nine at Augusta National during the Masters.
Like Harry Houdini, Spieth put on a magical display, making birdie on Nos. 13-17 en route to a back-nine 32 and 6-under 66 for the first-round lead. He posted birdies on the par 5s, Nos. 13 and 15, made the tricky par-4 14th look benign, took advantage of the easy hole location on the par-3 16th and converted the first birdie of his young career on the par-4 17th.
It was all done with relative ease as he made the difficult look commonplace. His longest putt for birdie during the stretch was 9 feet, and the rest were within 6 feet.
“I had some really tricky putts today from inside of 6 feet, putts that I had to play outside the hole, and made a lot of them in the middle of the hole, which was a big confidence boost,” said Spieth, who leads Tony Finau and Matt Kuchar by two strokes entering today’s second round (scores). “So, I've kind of found a little trigger in the stroke that has served as beneficial that I tried out last week, and I really think what I did on the weekend last week [final-round 66 to tie for third in the Houston Open] was hugely beneficial to being able to start strong here.”
Magicians like to keep their tricks of the trade secret, so the fact that Spieth was unwilling to provide any more insight into the “trigger” that produced 13 one-putt greens and only 10 putts on the second nine is not surprising.
But a successful performance does not make for a successful show.
Here again, Spieth has what he thinks is the answer. He considers Thursday’s first round to be one of six rounds.
Spieth understands that it’s extremely difficult to go wire-to-wire at any tournament, especially at the Masters. Trouble lurks at every hole. Consider the 13 that defending champion Sergio Garcia scored on the 15th hole.
Spieth, the 2015 Masters champion, experienced his own bit of purgatory in the middle of Amen Corner in the final round of 2016. Leading through three rounds, he made a quadruple-bogey 7 on the par-3 12th hole, leading to an eventual tie for second, three strokes behind Danny Willett.
Before that faithful Sunday, Spieth had either led or co-led the previous seven rounds in the Masters. In his short career, Spieth, 24, has now led or co-led nine of 17 rounds at the Masters.
“I imagine there will be plenty of times, if not from, you know, early on tomorrow that I don't lead this tournament anymore,” Spieth said of how he uses the six-round philosophy. “Things happen in this sport, and I'm going to try and control what I can control, and that's about it.”
A two-shot lead is comfortable around Augusta National only upon tapping in the last putt on the 18th green in the final round. Until then, the leader must have his head on a swivel because players will challenge from all directions.
For Spieth, he might be the only player in the field, including four-time Masters champion Tiger Woods, who can handle that situation without blinking.
Whether he will, of course, is another matter.
Golf is not a game of perfect. Spieth’s other 13 holes on Thursday were more like perseverance, with a couple of grains of flawless mixed in.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli