For Jordan Spieth, special win, special place

Jordan Spieth (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

For Jordan Spieth, special win, special place

PGA Tour

For Jordan Spieth, special win, special place

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The golf world has been whirring all around him for the last nine months, and Jordan Spieth has played the quiet spectator, an actor standing off-stage, awaiting his lines.

Dustin Johnson owned the summer, winning the U.S. Open and eventually PGA Tour player of the year honors. The FedEx Cup Playoffs? Those belonged to Rory McIlroy. The Ryder Cup belonged to the entire U.S. team, sure, but mainly because of Spieth’s fiery partner, Patrick Reed.

And since the commencement of a new season in October, Spieth has applauded the rise of two young stars-in-waiting right around his age, Hideki Matsuyama and Justin Thomas, who have won five and three times, respectfully, around the globe.

Spieth stepped into this week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am having slipped to sixth in the world, and perplexed just how he’d arrived there. After all, the Official World Golf Ranking looks at a two-year body of work, and in that period Spieth had won seven times (before Sunday), including a couple of majors.

Clearly he’s been bolstered by improved ballstriking, the result of a lot of diligent offseason work in Dallas with his longtime mentor, Cameron McCormick. But the extra hours of ballstriking work came with a price: it took time away from his usual forte, putting.

On the scenic Monterey Peninsula this week, those two parts of his game finally dovetailed. As a result, instead of just another solid top-10 showing, Spieth left town with a trophy, a very cool one at that. Shortly before it went into Spieth’s hands Sunday afternoon, Jim Nantz, who lives just a walk from that famous 18th green, welcomed Spieth into the champion’s family at Pebble, where he joins a rich history with some of the game’s greatest names: Snead, Hogan, Nelson, Demeret, Nicklaus, Watson, Woods and Mickelson.

Yes, it’s a pretty good club at Der Bingle’s old coastal California Clambake.

“It means a lot,” Spieth said. At 23, he’s the second youngest player (behind Woods) to collect nine titles. (Nicklaus is third.) “I’ve read a lot about the Bing Crosby. Seems like it was as good a time as anybody had back in the day. It’s a special tournament at an extremely special place for a golfer. It’s hard to beat Pebble Beach.”

Spieth shot 2-under 70, finishing at 19-under 268.

Spieth came to Pebble not having won since last May, at Colonial, where he captured the Dean & DeLuca Invitational not far from home. He’d won his second Australian Open in November, playing nicely, but on his own tour, he’d gone a dozen starts and nine months without holding a trophy. He was getting itchy.

Most impressive was how Spieth got things done at Pebble. He started Sunday with a six-shot lead (not as easy as it sounds) and won by four over fellow Texan and friend Kelly Kraft, who charged nicely with a hot start and final-round 67. (Ryder Cuppers Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker finished third and fourth.)

Spieth was clinical, describing his Sunday goal as “boring golf.” He essentially missed only one green (officially, he hit 16 , but he putted for birdie 17 times), and played relatively stress-free golf.

“When you have a six-shot lead at the start of the day, he didn’t need to do anything special,” said Michael Greller, Spieth’s caddie. “He was hitting it great, putting it great. He needed to play boring golf, and that’s what he did.”

The week in its entirety, though, was anything but boring. There was the terrific 68 Spieth opened with in terrible conditions (high winds and rain) at Monterey Peninsula’s Shore Course, and a couple of 65s in the middle rounds at Spyglass and Pebble. In shooting 65 and pulling away on Saturday at Pebble Beach, he was a putting demon, needing the shortstick only 23 times. And this performance came on bumpy Poa greens, where every 4-footer is a Six Flags ride.

On Sunday, when he shot 70, he seemed proud to proclaim that he didn’t need to lean on his putter to win. That’s the perception of Spieth and his game, that he somehow scrapes the ball around, isn’t all that long, is an inferior ball striker to Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and others, and saves himself only when he gets to the green.

Frankly, with all he has accomplished, that depiction not only is inaccurate, it’s highly insulting.

Spieth may be only 23, but he is an old head on young shoulders, and he gets little credit for two things he does incredibly well: He’s mentally tough, a real fighter, and he scores. That is the goal of this game, is it not? Get a little ball into the hole in the fewest strokes possible?

Jordan Spieth

Jordan Spieth got back to his winning ways on the Monterey Peninsula. (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

At the AT&T, Spieth exhibited some timely patience, and stayed pretty level. Greller describes his player as “passionate,” which, translated, means Spieth clearly can run hot under the collar at times. There is nothing wrong with that. But on the peninsula all week, he was very accepting of what the elements and the course would give him. At Monterey, he missed four putts of 6 feet or less, but accepted that as being part of the deal.

Saturday, one of the best irons he struck all day led to him making bogey. He flushed an approach from 180 yards at the difficult eighth, the wind flipped on him, and his ball sailed past the flag and over the green. He’d make 5, and then played his next 28 holes without making another bogey.

He was 8 under par over his last 28 holes.

There are times when Spieth tries to channel lessons learned from studying Tiger Woods when Woods was going well, and he remembered Woods playing Pebble on the final day of the U.S. Open at Pebble in 2000 with a huge lead, yet determined to keep his card free of bogeys. So that was the Sunday goal, and he accomplished it.

“There was a calmness to him that I thought showed a lot of maturity,” Greller said. “He’s been playing great all year, going back to the Aussie Open. And he had a really good year last year (in 2016, when he won three times globally). It’s not like he’s been in this big slump or anything.”

No, but he’d been waiting to win. And Sunday, as he left Pebble and headed to another favorite venue, Riviera, a few hours south down the California coast, he had a trophy in tow. That’s important. He’d been waiting for that. With a big stretch of golf ahead, and the year’s first major at Augusta only seven weeks away, it’s a very nice time to be riding some extra confidence.

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