'Stone-cold killer' Jordan Spieth moves ominously into Masters contention

Jordan Spieth of the United States reacts on the 18th green during the second round of the Masters - GETTY IMAGES
Jordan Spieth of the United States reacts on the 18th green during the second round of the Masters - GETTY IMAGES

If this is Jordan Spieth without yet being able to swing a club properly then the rest of the field had better watch out. The boy wonder is back.

An already intriguing Masters leaderboard was lent a whole new dimension by the return of the 2015 champion to the sharp end of proceedings.

Spieth’s second round 68, which has left the Texan at five-under for the tournament in a share of fourth place, two off the lead of England’s Justin Rose, was one thing. The 27-year-old was solid tee to green, hitting 11 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens in regulation. It was when he warned afterwards that he was feeling more and more comfortable, and still had plenty of room for improvement, that his rivals’ hearts must have sunk. The last thing they need is the Spieth of old stalking these fairways and greens again.

Put simply, Spieth is a stone-cold killer around these green and pleasant lands. At least, he used to be. There was a time when you could stake your mortgage on the Texan contending in Masters week. Remember his first three trips to Augusta? Second (2014), first (2015) and second again (2016). He was a 20-year-old phenomenon; a natural with a freakishly hot putter.

That 2016 tournament proved to be something of a setback, however. Two balls dumped into Rae’s Creek at the 12th on the final day handed the initiative to Danny Willett and Spieth’s career has never really been the same since. Although he won the Open at Birkdale in 2017 (as career setbacks go, it’s all relative), the aura of invincibility had gone, and his bullet-proof confidence with it. By January of this year, the former world No 1 was on the verge of dropping out of the world’s top 100.

Spieth has slowly turned his fortunes around over the last few months, building form and confidence week by week, culminating in last week’s victory on home soil at the Valero Texas Open, his first in almost four years.

He still doesn’t look completely like the Spieth of old. But he is getting there. A solitary birdie going out was followed by four coming back, mixed with one bogey on his bogey hole, the par-three 12th, when he found the greenside bunker. He bounced back immediately with birdie at the par-five 13th, laying up wisely after finding the pine needles off the tee, and finished the round looking more and more like he meant business. But for a triple-bogey seven on the par-four ninth on Thursday, Spieth might be leading the field now.

“It was a good last six holes,” he reflected. “I don’t really have a ton of consistency in the traction of my swing yet. But at least it’s getting to a better hitting position. I hit a [good] shot out of the trees on 13 which set up a birdie. To be in position after 36 is all I want. I’d love to move up further by the end of tomorrow.”

It would surprise no one. Apart from anything else, Spieth’s putter is still not burning as hot as it used to. If he can rediscover his killer touch on the greens, his rivals really will be in trouble.

From one 27-year-old American to another. Bryson DeChambeau’s bid to ‘overpower’ Augusta National may not yield a green jacket this year. But his detractors will not be laughing so loudly after a five-under-par 67, which has left the Californian six shots off the lead. 67, of course, is the score DeChambeau infamously claimed last autumn should be ‘par’ for him around here.

Given the quality of the players in front of him, and the hugely unpredictable nature of the course this year, it is unlikely he will be able to turn things around.

But the way DeChambeau bludgeoned his way around the back nine yesterday, hitting four birdies in his last six holes including at the 18th where his booming drive took out virtually all the trees, leaving him what looked like a wedge to the green, did suggest there was method to his madness.

“There were definitely some times when I felt like my power led to an advantage,” DeChambeau commented. The purists’ hackles will be up as the battle for golf’s soul rages on. An intriguing Masters weekend is in store.