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Jordan Spieth brings good vibrations to Pebble Beach

Jordan Spieth at 2020 U.S. Open
Jordan Spieth hasn’t won in 3½ years, but he enters this week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am with something that has been as elusive as victories lately: confidence.

Sure, he failed to win Sunday in Phoenix, but Spieth says he’s ‘close enough’ to reclaiming a winning form on PGA Tour

There is no doubt that Jordan Spieth will be in the World Golf Hall of Fame one day.

Under the criterion that qualifies a one-time major champion with fewer than 20 victories on the PGA Tour, Spieth, with three majors among his 11 titles before age 25, is a certifiable lock.

Yet, since he sank the winning putt at Royal Birkdale in the 2017 British Open, Spieth inexplicably has gone 3½ years without another victory.

In recent years, the media questioned him, his fellow competitors were left to wonder what happened and Spieth himself became disheartened about how his game had abandoned him.

“Anyone that I would reach out to, I was probably too stubborn and waited too long to probably reach out to people that I definitely could have for just help in whether it's certain areas of the game or just getting through kind of areas of down years or something like that,” Spieth said Wednesday on the eve of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. “I probably was just a bit too stubborn on that when there were a lot of people willing to help that are super friendly that have gone through, you know, I guess somewhat relatable situations out here.”

Instead, Spieth wallowed in doubt, wondering whether he was going down the right path and then finding out that he wasn’t and having to go back to square one. He lost time and had his psyche twisted like a Philadelphia pretzel.

It had to be a lonely existence, not only for Spieth but also for caddie Michael Greller, longtime coach Cameron McCormick and family and friends.

“There wasn't a time period where I didn't believe in what I was working on prior to that from when I was 12,” Spieth said. “So, which has been tough, right? Because you go out and put in all the hours, but if you're not necessarily, one, fully trusting what you're doing and, two, it's maybe not exactly what you need to be doing, you're putting in hours going the wrong way. So that's just extra time that it takes to, once you're going the right way, to be able to get things back to where you want.”

After missing the cut two weeks ago at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, his first start since November, Spieth headed to TPC Scottsdale last week for the Phoenix Open, still searching. The work that he put in wasn’t enough for him to feel good enough about his game to tee it up in the first round on Thursday and think he could win.

But as professional golf goes, perspective can change quickly – or, in Spieth’s case, with consecutive 4-under 67s in the first two rounds.

He followed those rounds with a 10-birdie, no-bogey 61 to vault into a share of the lead Saturday. The hard work finally had overtaken the doubts of recent years.

“I know standing on the first tee that I don't necessarily have the control that I've had other weeks where I've been in that same position, but I knew it was close enough where I could get the job done,” Spieth said of his mindset entering the final round Sunday, when he struggled to a 1-over 72 and a tie for fourth. “I just didn't make anything. I just didn't adjust to the speed of the greens. I left a lot of putts short. I had nerves to start, but I didn't really feel the nerves on the greens. I just didn't adjust to the speed like I did the day before. That's really what it came down to. I think I had 35 putts because I one-putted the last two holes, and that's just very unusual for me, no matter the round or the situation.” 

For the first time in a long time, Spieth was answering questions not about swing or technique, but about playing golf. It had to be a relief, finally to be a viable candidate to win again.

With newfound confidence, Spieth comes to Pebble Beach, where he owns four top-10 finishes in eight starts, including a victory in 2017.

The tournament will be different than in years past. The greens reportedly are a bit faster, and because of COVID-19, the traditional amateur partners have been banned. Because of the smaller field, only two courses, Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill, will be used, instead of the usual three. Regardless, Spieth has returned to the Monterey Peninsula with a bit of the swagger that he carried as one of the game’s top young stars just a few years ago when he won a Masters (2015), U.S. Open (2015) and that 2017 Claret Jug in a span of 2½ years.

It’s a place where he feels comfortable and thinks his local knowledge and good memories will pay off.

Add the fact that he believes he has a swing with which he can compete each week, and Spieth could be a significant adversary, especially with one of the weakest fields of the season. Only five of the world’s top 50 players are entered, and none of the top 10. Spieth, who had dropped to No. 92 in the Official World Golf Ranking, his lowest position since his 2013 rookie year, stands 69th.

“You’ve got to think your way around the golf course more, both of them,” he said. “You can't miss in certain spots. Course knowledge really serves you well. So, I'm excited that it is potentially more of a challenge this year. I'm excited that the greens are faster than they normally are, and I'm sure some pins will be a bit different, given, without the amateurs here, you're not really watching out for that and instead can make them quite a bit more challenging.”

Spieth exuded optimism and an excitement to get underway Thursday, when he will be paired with Rickie Fowler and defending champion Nick Taylor at 10:09 a.m. PST on the No. 1 tee at Pebble Beach (tee times).

He has the game, some confidence and a winning history at Pebble Beach. No one teeing it up this week could ask for more.

Now, he must execute.

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