FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – Jordan Spieth struggled in Saturday’s third round of the PGA Championship. It was not a surprise.
What was more of a surprise was that Spieth earned a spot in the final pairing with Brooks Koepka.
That’s not disingenuous, but a healthy analysis of a three-time major champion who has struggled, at times mightily, during the past two years.
On Saturday, Spieth was outmatched off the tee at Bethpage State Park's Black Course, but that was to be expected. He played in a group with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson in the first two rounds and outplayed one of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour.
So being the first to hit approach shots on almost every par 4 and par 5 would not be a new position for Spieth when paired with Koepka.
The problem for Spieth was that he missed fairways (7 of 14) at the same pace he had done in the first two rounds, but he struggled with his irons and averaged 40 feet 6 inches in proximity on Saturday, which was 13 feet farther from the hole than his first-round proximity.
When Spieth missed, it often was a toe hook, missing his spot and finding the wrong part of the green or the rough.
The final result: one double bogey, two bogeys and a 2-over 72, which dropped Spieth from a tie for second into T-8. He was one of only two players among the top 12 to be over par on Saturday (scores).
Success in professional golf can be fleeting. Because Spieth didn’t speak with the media after his round on Saturday, we have to look to his news conference on Friday, when he shot a 4-under 66.
“I hit a 4-iron into 12, my third hole of the day, that had no business hitting the green earlier this year and was right at the pin and actually went inside of 10 feet from about 227 into the wind,” Spieth said after his second round. “Shots like that are nice because they allow me to start seeing tighter targets. I get the feel through my hands and recognize what I did to produce that. It's all just progress from the work off the course, or outside the tournament.”
As much as Spieth’s game in the second round screamed that he was back after he had gone 0 for 41 on Tour since his 2017 British Open victory, his game on Saturday indicated something completely different.
Which is the anomaly: Friday or Saturday?
Spieth has not finished in the top 10 in 11 starts in 2019, with his best result a T-21 at the Masters last month. If Spieth can keep his wits about him today, he might post his best tournament of his season.
But that is little consolation after he had played his way into contention through two rounds, even if his chances were slim against runaway leader Brooks Koepka for Spieth to win his fourth major title and complete the career Grand Slam.
If Spieth truly was back in form, he would have broken par while Koepka cruised with an even-par 70 to retain a seven-stroke lead heading into the final round.
Today very likely will be a Koepka coronation. For Spieth, it will be an opportunity to rebound from a poor performance and build on what he did in the first two rounds.
It’s not now or never, but it is critical not to waste an opportunity when they have been so limited this season.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli