Jordan Spieth could not have come to Augusta National at a better time.
The reigning Masters and U.S. Open champion has been performing for the last three months like a 22-year-old kid on the PGA Tour — that is to say, a clearly talented player who is trying to figure out how to put it all together. He’s made six starts, finishing in the top 21 in all but one of them. The other was an anomaly, thanks to a bizarre 79 in the opening round at Riviera in February that left him in an almost impossible situation to make the weekend.
Fairly or unfairly, that’s not what is expected of the 22-year-old Jordan Spieth that won two majors last year and came within four strokes of winning them all.
So, coming back to a place where, in two starts, he finished tied for second and won by setting the 36-, 54- and tying the 72-hole scoring records is a good thing. It’s not a fountain of youth, but one of confidence.
“We know we’re capable of playing this place,” Spieth said Tuesday. “We (meaning himself and caddie Michael Greller) have proven it to ourselves the last two years. So the focus is on this week, and we feel as confident as probably ever leading into at least on Tuesday. So my game actually feels better right now than I think it did last year on Tuesday.”
Spieth had plenty of reason to be confident on Masters Tuesday a year ago. He had won the Valspar Championship with a dramatic playoff birdie. He finished second to Jimmy Walker in the Texas Open. He was a playoff runner-up in Houston the week before the Masters. He had momentum. He doesn’t this time; Jason Day does.
However, Spieth also has a win this year, like last year, which came in an eight-shot laugher at the Tournament of Champions. He still ranks, like last year, in the top six in birdie average. He’s improved in other statistical areas.
But things are different now. In 12 months, he’s become the wholesome face of American golf. He went from playing a largely domestic schedule to galavanting to six countries in six separate events straddling 2015 and ’16, raking in millions in appearance fees. His every move is scrutinized. Every shot of his, when he’s in contention or not, is showed on TV. This time last year, golf was looking for a new Tiger Woods. Golf found a suitable replacement in Jordan Spieth. That’s been an adjustment for the now world No. 2.
“It’s more the internal stuff that is trickier for me,” he said. “The only way it affects my golf is if I’m on the course and I feel like I’m giving strokes away and, therefore, I make an aggressive play that’s unnecessary.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that Spieth is hoping not to throw it back to last year’s dominating, here-I-am performance, but rather to his fresh-faced debut in 2014, when he finished runner-up to Bubba Watson.
It was a simpler time.
“I think I was lucky that the first try, I wasn’t trying as hard,” he said, “and I think now I can just go back to the past couple years and draw off of that.”
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