Though he slips into a tie for 10th, Spieth holes 456 feet of putts for the week as he seeks to turn back the clock to 2015
For most of us who play golf, accomplishing our objectives 50 percent of the time would be thrilling. For Jordan Spieth, a future World Golf Hall of Fame inductee, 90 percent is just a steppingstone to getting back to where he was a few years ago, when he was one of the favorites at every major championship.
It seems so long ago that Spieth, 26, of Dallas, was in the hunt for the top prizes on the PGA Tour.
When he won the 2017 British Open by three shots at Royal Birkdale, it was his third major victory and 11th Tour title in four years, entrenching him as one of the game’s stars. He was most impressive on the greens, where he seemed to hole 20-, 30- and 40-footers as needed.
Spieth rode that putter though any problems from tee to green. But when the putter cooled off from mid-range and longer, his success rate plummeted.
Upon the PGA Tour’s return last week in Fort Worth, Texas, from a three-month hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic, Spieth looked like his former self. He holed putts at Colonial Country Club that in recent years he struggled to sink.
“To me, it's about feels,” Spieth said at the halfway point of the Charles Schwab Challenge and his need to progress beyond 90 percent. “So, I know how the club feels when I'm starting to really gain control of it. There's certain shots that I really haven't been able to hit when I was off that when I hit them in competition, whether it's just a cut 3-iron off the tee or it's even a high draw wedge that stays right – for me.”
Spieth was in the final group in Saturday’s third round after consecutive rounds of 65, the first time he has done that since the middle two rounds of the 2017 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, which he won by four shots over Kelly Kraft.
Though he managed only a 1-over 71 in the final round Sunday for a T-10 finish, Spieth generated enough buzz to show signs of a breakout from his struggles of recent years (scores).
“100 percent, definitely progress,” Spieth said of his game upon leaving Colonial, where he won in 2016. “I knew coming in I didn't have all the tools, didn't have all my weapons yet. But I certainly gained more this week, gained a lot of confidence. I'm making those putts from mid-to-long range, and I'm driving the ball in good position. So, it's really just cleaning up the wedges and stuff that I'm normally really sharp with that certainly had a bit of rust on it. I feel really good going into the next couple weeks, for sure.”
Spieth finished at 11 under, four strokes out of the playoff that Daniel Berger won against Collin Morikawa. If you take away a four-putt on Saturday and a drive that caught the wind and went out of bounds, Spieth might have been the third member of that playoff.
“To have a chance on Sunday for the first time in almost two years,” Spieth said in discussing his play this week. “To be within one or two strokes of the lead on a Sunday.”
It’s a long way from his heady five-victory 2015 but not as far as it had been.
It might have been easy to presume during the past two years with Spieth that perhaps his best golf was behind him. He had only nine top-10s in 46 starts in the two previous seasons. Now, with his third top-10 result in nine starts this season, the bar has been raised again.
Can his new game, with some refinement, especially off the tee, come close to the form of 2015, when he rose to No. 1 in the world for 26 weeks? Can he add consistency and hole those 20-plus-footers to separate himself from the pack?
At Colonial, Spieth ranked No. 1 in strokes gained putting as he holed 456 feet, 1 inches of putts over four days, including three of 25-plus feet on Sunday.
This week at the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head Island, S.C., Spieth will get a shot at another course, Harbour Town Golf Links, that is short by Tour standards and requires a controlled tee shot. He has played well over the years at Harbour Town, which usually follows the Masters in April but was postponed as part of the PGA Tour's revised schedule, posting three finishes of 12th or better in four appearances.
“I've had success at each of the courses coming up,” Spieth said. “So, I feel good about that, and then progressing for me off the tee is huge.”
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