PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA | With a warm, spring breeze blowing Friday afternoon and the Players Championship set to go on without Jordan Spieth – again – the question of what’s wrong seemed to sit invisibly on the 25-year-old’s slender shoulders.
It has been 20 months since Spieth’s victory in the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale and he has tumbled to 25th in the world rankings, his game a scattershot collection of missed cuts and low finishes.
Since finishing third at the Masters last April, Spieth’s only top-10 finish was a tie for ninth at the Open Championship, where he could have won last July at Carnoustie. Since then, Spieth’s golf has blurred further, a mash-up of inconsistencies of every form.
Once the most admired putter in the game, Spieth is only now regaining a measure of the confidence he once possessed over the short ones. His long game, however, remains an unfinished puzzle that may not soon be put together.
Two days at the Stadium Course encapsulated Spieth’s vexing situation.
After opening with a 4-over-par 76 that included a handful of sharp toe hooks off the tee, Spieth played himself inside the cutline Friday morning with five birdies before frittering away shots coming in, signing for a second-round 69 that cut him out of the weekend here for the fourth time in six starts.
“It’s a work in progress from my long irons to woods, and that’s what killed me out here. Historically, I haven’t driven the ball well, therefore it doesn’t lead to success,” Spieth said.
“I putted extremely well. I’m proud of the fight today. The putting’s back. It’s very close to being top of the world again and I know exactly how to get there, which is the good news.
“As far as the full swing … the same mistakes I was making earlier in the year I was making on the golf course. Probably one out of every two shots was good with the long clubs. Unfortunately to compete out here you need nine out of 10 to be good.”
“Jordan falls into the category of wanting it too badly maybe, to me.” – Paul Azinger
Since his 2019 debut at the Sony Open in Hawaii, Spieth has preached personal patience, understanding he’s trying to work himself out of some bad habits that developed in his long game. The problem now, Spieth said, is seeing what appears to be a closed clubface at address.
Spieth’s swing looks and feels cluttered to him, which leads to trust issues. At the Stadium Course, which punishes poor tee shots, Spieth fought the dreaded two-way miss with his driver. He hit just 12 of 28 fairways, continuing a troublesome trend.
With the majority of the par-5s playing downwind, Spieth played them even, over two days. Still, he made 11 birdies in two rounds.
Entering the Players Championship, Spieth ranked 197th on Tour in strokes gained off the tee and 168th in strokes gained tee to green. He was 212th in avoiding the left rough.
Spieth also ranked 178th in three-putt avoidance but part of that is the result of his proximity to the hole – outside the top 100 on Tour.
“He’s got to get back into playing golf and not golf swing and that putter’s going to come back to life one of these weeks and Jordan is going to finish high, that’s just going to happen,” NBC Sports analyst Paul Azinger said.
Spieth believes the same thing. The challenge, though, is getting there.
The good stuff is in there, just not often enough.
At the Sony Open in Hawaii, he followed an opening 73 with a 66. He shot 65 in the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open, then didn’t break par for three days.
A 64-68 start at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am was followed by rounds of 74-75. At the Genesis Open at Riviera, Spieth shot 64 in the first round and 81 in the final round.
“I’ve been surprised by the eight-, nine-shot differences between two days. The amount of bogeys or over-par holes, I know why I’m doing it but it’s surprising to me how many mistakes I’m making during the round,” said Spieth, whose best finish in eight starts this season is a T35 at the Farmers Insurance Open.
The immediate plan, Spieth said, is to get in some playing lessons with instructor Cameron McCormick at home in Dallas next week before teeing it up in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin with an eye on the Masters just over a month away.
He had a chance to win two major championships last year but those looked like shooting stars across his 2018 season.
“Jordan falls into the category of wanting it too badly maybe, to me,” Azinger said.
“He’s an incredible player, he’s still really, really young, he plays with passion. When you look at your career when it’s over, if you look back, I think that you would say to yourself, ‘Wow, I was a little too hard on myself back there when I was (25).’”
In the moment, it can look and feel desperate. Spieth is trying to take a longer view.
“In any career you’re going to have ups and downs. I’ve had them last two weeks and I’ve also had it to where the time when I missing Q-School where I had a year or two when I couldn’t get the ball in the hole from outside 3 feet. I turned that into in a couple of years of making everything,” Spieth said.
“It’s how it works. It’s a matter of when you get off, learning from it, finding out why, and when it’s going good, what did you do to get there.
“It’s fine. Everything is OK.”
Meanwhile, the Players Championship will continue without Spieth.
Jordan Spieth’s one-handed finish on the 11th tee on Friday exemplifies his frustration with his game. Photo: Gregory Shamus, Getty Images
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