Welcome back to the top of the leaderboard, Jordan Spieth. It’s been awhile.
Spieth, a three-time major winner and former Golden Boy of Golf, vaulted back into the championship conversation for the first time in a long time with a four-under 67 that left him at -5 on the week and two strokes back of Tommy Fleetwood’s clubhouse lead.
It’s been a long, lonely road for Spieth the last few years. Not all that long ago, he was in serious discussions for a Grand Slam, winning both the Masters and the U.S. Open in 2015 before falling just short at the Open Championship at St. Andrews. Two years later, he outdueled Matt Kuchar for that Open Championship win, and now lacks only a PGA Championship for a career Grand Slam.
Since then, though ... nothing.
Spieth has three top-10 finishes in the last eight majors since that Open win, but he’s never really been in contention. “What’s wrong with Jordan Spieth?” articles are now a staple of every major, and Spieth himself seems at a loss to explain exactly why he’s lost the thread.
For the moment, though, he’s found something. He appeared more confident and comfortable on the course than he has in years, even to the point of walking in putts.
“I'm in contention. I feel good,” he said after his round. “I feel like if I can continue to improve each day, hit the ball better tomorrow than I did today, and better on Sunday than Saturday, then I should have a chance with how I'd feel on and around the greens.”
Worth noting: Spieth’s putter bailed him out time after time. His driving accuracy and greens-in-regulation are well below the field averages, but he’s managed to save himself with clutch putting. At one point, he reeled off a birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie run that vaulted him to the top of the leaderboard. He cooled off a touch after that, but he continued to show the kind of putting form that won him those three majors and put him in contention for several more.
Here’s the problem Spieth faces right now: He can’t close. He ranks 16th in scoring average on Thursdays, and an impressive second on Fridays. But from there, he falls off a cliff, ranking 166th on Saturdays and 196th on Sundays. He can’t close, plain and simple. And that doesn’t bode well at all for this weekend, where conditions are expected to be worse.
“I always get pumped up for major championships, clearly I try to peak for majors,” he said. “I just grew up in the wind, having to play a lot of different shots and using imagination around the greens on the course I grew up at. So it's different but it feeds well into this style of golf. And then we don't see it very often. I wish we were able to see it more. I love links golf.”
For the moment, though, Spieth is back in the mix. Baby steps.
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