ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI | A year ago, Jordan Spieth arrived at the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow still cradling the Claret Jug he’d won at the Open Championship one month earlier and with a new set of expectations set upon his shoulders.
Spieth failed in his first attempt to complete the career Grand Slam and afterward said he believed the PGA Championship could be the most difficult major for him to win during the course of his career. Some of that may have been frustration from not having been in contention at Quail Hollow, and Spieth has arrived at rain-soaked Bellerive this week embracing the opportunity to become just the seventh player to complete the career slam.
“I think I was probably a little more anxious last year,” Spieth said. “There was a big focus on it, given it was right after the Open Championship so it was fresh. I was in form and going to a place that, if I worked my way up the leaderboard, it would create a lot of noise.
“I feel somewhat under the radar this year. I’ve kind of felt that way a lot this year. I don’t mind it. At the same time, this tournament will always be circled until I’m able to hopefully win it someday.”
Sounds funny, doesn’t it? Jordan Spieth under the radar.
But the truth is – and Spieth has acknowledged it – this hasn’t been a sparkling season for him. It started with the lingering effects of mononucleosis and, with a few notable exceptions, his performance has been flat. Spieth had a chance to win the Masters, shooting 64 on Sunday, and took a share of the lead into the final round of the Open Championship at Carnoustie before fading with a closing 76.
Considered the best putter on Tour, Spieth ranks 165th in strokes gained putting and that’s an improvement in terms of ranking from where he was earlier this summer.
The Claret Jug he was carrying around this time last year?
It is from the most recent tournament Spieth has won.
“I understand this year’s been kind of a building year for me and I’ve been working back toward the level I like to be at and it’s getting close and starting to see some results from it through the Open Championship,” Spieth said.
“I try to focus on four tournaments a year. I have a huge emphasis on them and two of them I’ve had a chance to win on Sunday this year. If I’m looking at it from that standpoint, it’s kind of mission accomplished with one to go.”
Rory McIlroy understands both the challenge and the opportunity facing Spieth this week. He’s had four cracks at completing the career Grand Slam at the Masters and he’s still chasing the one major championship trophy that has eluded him.
“I think that less expectations is better,” McIlroy said. “Trying to take pressure off yourself, trying to treat it like any normal week, just trying to win the golf tournament that week, sort of put it out of your head that what winning this golf tournament would mean in terms of your legacy and your place in the game. I can probably relate a little bit to what he’s feeling, but it’s a great position to be in. Not many people have a chance to do something like that.
“So it’s really cool to be a part of that conversation, and I think you have to embrace it, you have to relish it, you have to just go at it and know that, if you do win this week, you’re going to join a very, very elite club. I’m sure Jordan feels a little bit different this week than he does the other three majors, but that’s normal.”