PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. –– Jordan Spieth pieced together an under-par round with what seemed like chicken wire and duct tape. It is unknown whether he got the goods at Home Depot, Lowe’s or somewhere else.
The hunch here is he got them while digging shots out of dirt, through competing and practicing as a kid. Spieth might be only 20, but in golf years he’s an old soul who has an admirable, fearless ability to, somehow, some way, put a number on a scorecard.
“He just finds a way to get it in the hole,” said Michael Greller, Spieth’s caddie. “Scrambling has kept us where we are. It’s as good as I’ve seen.”
Where they are is tied for first after three rounds of the Players Championship, the fifth most important golf tournament in the world. He’s there, joint first with Martin Kaymer at 12-under 204, because somehow he hasn’t made a bogey in his 54 holes this week (in 69 holes actually, dating to his last tournament).
That is a remarkable achievement, particularly since he played some Army golf coming in – right, left, left and right if we’re describing his last four tee shots on holes other than a par 3.
“It was ugly coming in,” Spieth said after piecing together a 71. “Somehow I did it (remained bogey-free). I got some great breaks and bounces on a day I didn’t have my best ball-striking or putting. If you would’ve told me before the round that I’d hit it like that and shoot 1 under, I would’ve said thank you.”
Last summer, Spieth became the first teenager to win on the PGA Tour in 82 years when he claimed the John Deere Classic in a playoff. Sunday, he goes for his second victory, something that eluded him at the recent Masters, where he led by two strokes with 11 holes remaining but slipped into a tie for second.
He has a chance to become the first Tour winner to go bogey-free since Lee Trevino at the 1974 Greater New Orleans Open. And he has an opportunity to break Greg Norman’s tournament record – the Shark went 66 holes before making his lone bogey in winning here in 1994.
“Augusta left me feeling a little hungry for it again, and here we are, and I have an opportunity to draw back on that round and the positives, the negatives and everything in between,” Spieth said.
Golf’s latest phenom made but one birdie Saturday at TPC Sawgrass, that on the par-5 11th, a hole after banging a 4-foot birdie attempt off the back of the cup. But then his round was exciting nonetheless because of all the scrambling after his alignment got off (feet and shoulders didn’t match up) starting at 13.
He lipped out a 58-foot downhill chip at 13. After flaring a drive far right over a hill at 14, he laced a hybrid shot from an awkward stance into a left greenside bunker and saved par. He called that approach probably his best shot of the week.
Spieth was fortunate to have a swing in between trees after hooking his drive at 16, then saved par after hitting his third shot over the green. In thick rough and behind trees on the right on 18, he punched 56 yards short and then saved par with a 13-foot putt from the back fringe.
The putt kept his bogey-free streak alive and put him into a tie for first when Kaymer bogeyed. Spieth said he didn’t expect to make that putt but figured an image of the ball going in would help him “mentally” Sunday.
It was the first time Kaymer, the 2010 PGA champion, got a look at Spieth’s act in person. You might say he came away impressed with the kid’s ability to score.
“Just very good in short game,” the German said. “There were a couple today where you think it’s a tough one to save par and he always pulled it off. If it wasn’t a brilliant chip, it was a good putt. It’s tough to beat those those guys that don’t make mistakes . . . (and it) seems like he doesn’t make many mistakes.”
As Greller points out, most of Spieth’s season statistics won’t wow people. But he does rank 19th in scrambling and 23rd in putting. It’s also important to know they don’t keep statistics on the ability to visualize shots and block out external noise upon stepping onto the first tee–strong Spieth attributes.
“To me it almost seems he has been out here a long time,” Greller said. “I don’t see him as someone who’d be a junior in college.”
At this point, the caddie’s probably doesn’t get much dissent.