DUBLIN, Ohio – Jordan Spieth seems to be finding his swagger as the U.S. Open looms.
Coming off a bogey-bogey finish to his opening nine, Spieth blistered the front side at Jack Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village in 5-under 31 to shoot 6-under 66 on opening day at The Memorial on Thursday. He sits a shot behind first-round co-leaders Jason Dufner, who bogeyed his final hole to shoot 65, and Sweden’s David Lingmerth, the 2015 Memorial champion.
Having missed back-to-back cuts at The Players and his hometown Byron Nelson in Irving, Texas, Spieth rebounded last week by tying for second at Colonial, finishing one shot behind winner Kevin Kisner. Spieth was paired with Kisner on Thursday (along with his longtime buddy, Justin Thomas, who shot 67).
Spieth was 2 under through 13 holes, then finished with a huge burst, making birdies at four of his last five holes, tucking a wedge to 2 feet at the 414-yard ninth to close.
“It was an awesome finish,” he said. “I knew once you get to the front nine, which was our back nine, you actually do get quite a few birdie opportunities.”
Spieth has greatly improved his ballstriking year over year – he ranks 12th in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and second in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green – but he has been waiting for his short game to come around. His faithful Cameron 007 putter even went into the penalty box for one week in Texas (Byron Nelson) but it’s back in the bag. Spieth seems to have solved the alignment issues he was experiencing.
He made nearly 87 feet of putts on Thursday, and needed the putter only 25 times. In all, Spieth made eight birdies, which, in his words, left him with “no complaints.” This is Spieth’s fifth start at Memorial, with his top finish a tie for third in 2015, his best season as a pro.
Sunday at Colonial, Spieth made a brilliant charge with a final-round 65, climbing near the top of the leaderboard. Kisner was the lone player to get to 10 under, and saved par at the final hole for the victory. Though he didn’t collect a trophy, Spieth said he may look back at that round as the most important of his year.
“I played really solid golf,” he said Wednesday. “It was just, for me, I was looking on Sunday for limited mistakes. I’d made 11 bogeys through three rounds, which is normally a tremendous strength of mine, bogey avoidance. And I made 11 of them through the three rounds.
“And I said, I’m making these birdies, I’m making up for it now, where I wasn’t the two previous weeks. I’m capitalizing. Let’s just take a backseat, wait for them to come to us. And that’s what I was looking for on Sunday. And they did. And we didn’t make any mistakes on Sunday. I wasn’t close to making a bogey, other than 18. And even then it was a 5-footer or so.”
Spieth said he hoped that play would carry into this week, and it did. He caught a huge break on the par-3 12th, where he had little chance of stopping a bunker shot unless his ball hit the pin. What did he do? He flew the shot into the cup, turning a near-certain 4 into a 2.
Those are the breaks that Spieth has been waiting to see. One other thing that has held Spieth back this season: lackluster opening rounds. Only once this season (Sony, where he was third) did he open any better than he did on Thursday at Jack’s Place.
“It’s nice to get off to a really good start on a course like this, where it’s important to stay patient,” Spieth said. “Now I feel like I can, and still stay in this tournament. The second you get out of it, try to force things, that’s where this course eats you up.”