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Jordan Spieth was two shots off the lead when he pulled 8-iron from 158 yards out at the par-4 16th Saturday at Pebble Beach. Adjusting for the wind on a blustery day on the Monterey Peninsula – and some mud – Spieth threw the shot out to the right and watched it track back left toward the hole.
“In the air I thought it was going to be really good, it was one of the only shots I kind of said, ‘Oh, be good,’" Spieth said. “And as it landed it was just exactly where I was trying to hit it, certainly a bonus for it to drop. … It's a good lesson to learn for tomorrow: how quickly things can change out here.”
Spieth’s hole-out eagle propelled him to 13 under, while two of his competitors, Daniel Berger and Nate Lashley, struggled coming in. Berger hit his tee ball on No. 18 out of bounds and made double bogey to drop to 11 under, where he’s tied with four others, including Lashley, who bogeyed each of his final two holes.
They are all two shots back of Spieth, who shot 1-under 71 and now holds a 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour for the second straight week. Last Sunday in Phoenix, Spieth closed in 72 to finish T-4, extending his lengthy losing streak that dates to his last win, at the 2017 Open Championship.
So, while Spieth knows how quickly things can change in golf, he’s also well aware of how slowly they can’t.
The past few years have certainly been a struggle for Spieth, who nearly fell out of the top 100 in the world rankings, to No. 92, before his performance at TPC Scottsdale brought him back inside the top 70. The swing, particularly with the longer clubs, is mostly to blame, but the confidence also waned, so much so that there were times when the three-time major champion and former world No. 1 didn’t recognize that player. Yes, there were flashes mixed in there, but those spurts of success were the result of a duct-taped game.
Now, seemingly on the other side of it all after seven straight promising rounds, Spieth finally looks poised to end the drought.
“I don't really care about the time frame stuff,” Spieth said Saturday. “I'm really just going to throw that out of my head because I'm finally consistently doing things over the last two weeks that I've wanted to do for a long time. I think, obviously the more you continue to do that, the bounces go your way, like the hole out did today on 16. Someone may do that to me tomorrow or come shoot a 64 or something. I mean, it's golf, and it's Pebble Beach, and you can go low, and it can also be really challenging. … What I'm asking for is a chance to win the golf tournament on 18.”
He may not be all the way back. He may not have that “phenomenal control” like he did when he was winning multiple times a year. He may not possess that supreme confidence from when he was winning majors. But he’s getting there – and quickly.
“I'm just trying to have it feel a little bit better than yesterday,” he said.
He’s more confident than he was a Sunday ago. He’s hitting it better, more consistently, and putting with more aggressiveness. You can bet he’ll still be nervous when he sticks the tee in the ground on Pebble's opening hole in less than 24 hours, but he’s never not been nervous when he’s had a chance to close out a tournament.
And after last week, he knows what that feels like again.
“Jordan's going to have to play well because there's a lot of guys right there,” Berger said. “It's not going to be handed to him. He's going to have to shoot a good score.”
For a change, Spieth is ready.