News & Opinion

Spieth aims to extend Tour playoff streak

NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. – On Wednesday at Aronimink Golf Club, Jordan Spieth was asked about his need to “scramble” at this week’s BMW Championship in order to advance to East Lake and the Tour Championship in two weeks.

Spieth, a very astute and polished young man, met the question with an answer that leaned toward witty humor … but somewhere inside him, the insinuation that Spieth would have to scramble in anything in his lifetime partly seemed to stiffen his spine, too.

“I’m actually inside the number right now, you might forget,” Spieth said in a playful way. “So, I don’t know about the scrambling.”

Jordan Spieth
Jordan Spieth has experienced plenty of ups and downs this season, but he expects a strong finish to the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Jordan Spieth has experienced plenty of ups and downs this season, but he expects a strong finish to the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Halfway through the FedEx Cup playoffs, Spieth, who turned 25 in July, is in a different position than usual. For the first time in four seasons, he has failed to win, and he sits at No. 27 in the points standings. The top 30 advance to the Tour Championship. Spieth doesn’t necessarily have to win this week to move on, but he also needs to do more than just show up.

A year ago, when the BMW was staged at Conway Farms, near Chicago, four players who ranked inside the top 30 were supplanted by four others who would make the East Lake lineup by tournament’s end. In Spieth’s first five seasons on Tour, he always has finished at the Tour Championship. But he also knows it’s no birthright.

As busy as the schedule can get this time of year for top pros – a World Golf Championships event, the season’s last major (PGA), and potentially four playoff events and a Ryder Cup (Spieth is in for Paris) just on the other side of the British Open – the last thing he’d want is to be home in Dallas in two weeks, practicing while his buddies divide the bigger spoils at the FedEx Cup finale in Atlanta.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity not only to try to win the FedEx Cup, but it’s a very difficult golf course and a great tournament that then gets you better prepared for the next week at the Ryder Cup,” Spieth said. “Obviously you have to go about your business in a better way. I haven’t missed it, so I don’t really know, but the idea is to do what I did the last couple of weeks, try and win this golf tournament.”

Spieth has had his chances to make a bigger push deeper inside the top 30 during the first two weeks of the playoffs. He climbed into the top 10 at Northern Trust (T-7) after a third-round 64 at Ridgewood two weeks ago, then fell back on Sunday, playing his first six holes in 4 over and shooting 73. He tied for 25th. He made a push at TPC Boston a week ago, playing steadily into the Monday finish, but made three bogeys on his incoming nine in the final round, shooting 1-over 36 and dropping into a tie for 12th. Nonetheless, he improved from 33rd in the FedEx Cup to 27th, the right direction to be moving. And that’s where he stands as he readies to tee it up at Aronimink alongside Tiger Woods and Rickie Fowler at 11:30 a.m. today (tee times).

There’s a reason that Spieth already has 11 victories, including three major titles, at such a young age. He is mentally strong, perhaps the best in that area since Woods himself, and he finds a way to get the job done. Despite a body of work that has not been his best this season – in 22 starts, he has as many missed cuts (five) as top-10 finishes – Spieth somehow willed his way into contention at the Masters (final-round 64) and the British Open, where the defending champion shared the lead heading into the final round.

He stumbled on that Sunday at Carnoustie, shooting 76, but he has that inherent gift to see the bigger picture: He had put himself right there. Rightfully, he thinks he has some momentum on his side heading into the BMW. Certainly his putting, which had been an uncharacteristic point of concern, has improved as the summer progressed. He ranks 121st in strokes gained putting, but earlier in the year he was outside the top 190. Mind you, they measure only 205. Again, that’s a sign of progress.

If Spieth is to pull his season from the doldrums, now is the time. A solid week at the BMW and he’s back into East Lake, where three years ago he won to cap a magical, two-major 2015. Then Spieth, likely shoulder to shoulder with Captain America Patrick Reed, will have the chance to be part of a U.S. Ryder Cup that will try to prevail in Europe for the first time in a quarter-century. That's right, Spieth was months old when the U.S. last won across the Atlantic.

A very pedestrian season could become that special, and that memorable, that quickly. Though he hasn’t had his best fastball, Spieth is smart enough to know that.

The PGA Tour projects that Spieth would need a finish of solo 28th or better to advance to the Tour Championship, something that normally would be a ho-hum proposition to such a world talent. But this hasn’t been a very normal season. Know this: You won’t find him too caught up in those real-time projections this week. “I promise you,” he said.

No, he’ll be too busy keeping his head down, working hard and forging ahead. In times of real challenge, that's what real champions do.

Jeff Babineau is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America who has covered golf since 1994, writing for such publications as The Orlando Sentinel, Golfweek and Golf World. Email: Twitter: @jeffbabz62