SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS | Following Friday’s second round at the Valero Texas Open, Jhonattan Vegas was asked to assess the play of Jordan Spieth. The former Texas Longhorns were grouped together over the first 36 holes and combined to shoot 14-under par heading into the weekend.
“If that looks like a slump, I want to be on it for the rest of my career,” Vegas said after watching a previously struggling Spieth post consecutive 68s at TPC San Antonio.
Vegas sees what we all see when it comes to Spieth at his best. It’s why Spieth is a three-time major champion and has four top-3 finishes in five starts at the Masters. Even amidst a season in which he ranks a dreadful 177th in the FedEx Cup standings, Spieth is liable to ignite at any moment.
Saturday proved to be a microcosm of how the 25-year-old’s play continues to be maddening. Playing in the final threesome as he looked for his first victory in almost two years, Spieth missed every fairway on his front nine en route to a 6-over 42. So disastrous was his effort that he appeared destined to miss the 54-hole cut.
The tweets were out in full force to capitalize on the meltdown. One person wrote, “Jordan Spieth officially has some sort of yips. Needs to take time off from golf.” Another took a shot by saying, “At this rate, looking forward to matching Jordan Spieth with Tony Romo at the AT&T Byron Nelson.”
But after his golf game appeared helplessly ill on the front side, he self-diagnosed himself in time for a 180-degree turnaround. Spieth hit six of seven fairways on the back nine and carded a 5-under 31, needing only 11 putts to do so. That’s the extraordinary talent Vegas lauded for his play on Thursday and Friday.
So which Jordan will arrive at Augusta National next week? His current numbers are nothing short of atrocious. He has fallen to No. 32 in the world, ranks 204th in strokes gained off the tee – there are only 215 players measured – and remains uncharacteristically pedestrian on the greens, ranking 81st in strokes gained putting. And then there is the matter of his abysmal weekend scoring average this season. That number, which is just above 73, seems to suggest that his recently maligned swing has struggled under pressure.
Listening to him talk is another matter entirely. He sounds inspired by his performance in San Antonio, yesterday’s round causing more optimism than frustration.
It may be fair to say that Spieth is unfairly judged by his 2015 season that included two victories, a runner-up and a tie for fourth in the majors.
“Other than (the front nine), the back nine today was by far the best that I’ve played, the most control I’ve had of the ball and the best I’ve felt putting the ball in a couple years,” said Spieth, whose Saturday 73 dropped him eight strokes off the lead. “I actually look as today as progress. I needed the start today to recognize that there were things that still needed adjustment and I made those adjustments mid-round and was able to shoot 5 under from what was a 6-over front nine. That shows me that with a few reps, I’m really close to being right where I want to be.”
Despite his positive self-talk, there are clearly issues in Spieth’s long game. He hit just 17 of 42 fairways in three rounds at TPC San Antonio, a course that isn’t known for being ruthless off the tee. Augusta is more demanding on the second shot than it is the first, so his driving struggles may be slightly masked as he hopes to contend once again at the Masters.
The question of “when should we be concerned about Jordan Spieth” was posed in the media center this week. Maybe nothing would be more panic-inducing than if Spieth wipes out at Augusta and misses the cut. It’s just one tournament, but he’s never known anything but success there. He’s also missed only one cut in his last 16 major appearances.
The rest of us may look at it this way, dissecting each performance and growing worried as Spieth’s world ranking falls, but he does not. It may be fair to say that Spieth is unfairly judged by his 2015 season that included two victories, a runner-up and a tie for fourth in the majors. Water always finds its level. He will almost certainly never repeat that year, but he also isn’t destined to remain 167th in overall strokes gained like he is this season.
For the time being, Spieth sees none of this.
“For a while I didn’t know if I was doing the right things, and then once I started to know I was doing the right things, that’s when the real kind of patience, the need for patience started to come,” he said.
“It’s getting better each day. At (the WGC) Match Play I shot three under-par rounds last week. I had a goal to shoot four under-par tournament rounds in a row and after (Thursday’s) round, I accomplished that.
“Just trying to accomplish these little goals at a time that continue to bring results, but not focused on the results, if that makes sense. I’m just focusing on short-term goals.”
It’s unlikely that he will win in Texas, but Sunday could still be pivotal. A great driving performance and a round in the 60s would be the perfect way to start Masters week.
And everyone knows what he is capable of after he rolls down Magnolia Lane.
Jordan Spieth blasts from a bunker on the eighth hole during the third round of the Valero Texas Open. Photo: Michael Reaves, Getty Images
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