Rude: Spieth grows while Woods rejuvenates

Jordan Spieth at the Puerto Rico Open on Sunday, March 10, 2013 in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.

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Jeff Rude’s “I Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday.

On Sunday at the Puerto Rico Open, Jordan Spieth came close to becoming the second-youngest winner in PGA Tour history and the youngest in the modern era. His tie for second came at age 19, about seven months older than “Lighthorse” Harry Cooper was when winning in Galveston, Texas, in 1923.

Perhaps just as impressive was the former Texas star’s reaction to the achievement in just his 12th Tour start. “I wouldn’t say I surprised myself,” he said Wednesday at the Tampa Bay Championship.

His confidence, still growing, was high because he had finished in the top seven the previous two weeks on the Web.com Tour. The minor league, though, isn’t at the top of his radar at the moment. He has this week and four more of his seven 2013 sponsor exemptions to win $101,295 and become eligible for unlimited invites for the rest of the year.

The budding star plans to use three of his exemptions in the friendly confines of Texas, at the Houston, San Antonio and Dallas tournaments. The latter is where Spieth, at 16, contended on the final nine holes of his hometown Byron Nelson event in 2010.

Little wonder then that he used the word “excited” multiple times Wednesday at Innisbrook. In the matter of one week his main focus shifted from Web.com to PGA Tour.

“That’s a good problem,” Spieth said.

Spieth has been learning by playing practice rounds with veteran players. And he sounds like one of them – a young Tiger Woods comes to mind – when talking about his goals.

“I wasn’t kidding when I said that I approached (the 2010 Nelson) to try and win,” Spieth said. “I still believe you don’t ever enter a tournament unless you’re trying to win.”

• Sometimes happiness isn’t the primary emotion upon winning. So it was with Scott Brown in Puerto Rico. “It was more relief than anything,” the 29-year-old Augusta, Ga., native said.

Brown started the year focusing on the Web.com Tour after finishing 144th in earnings last year on the big Tour and losing his card. But now he’s exempt on the PGA Tour through the 2014-15 season. He’s merely the latest proof that one week out here can drastically change a life and a schedule.

His victory in the opposite-field event doesn’t get him into the Masters, but you might say getting there someday is at the top of his list. Still living in that area where golf got into his blood, Brown grew up about 500 yards from Gate 6 at Augusta National and used to attend annually with his grandfather, normally sitting on No. 16. He finally missed one in 2005, when he got “old enough to know I didn’t want to deal with the crowds.” That was the same year he played his lone round at the National, shooting 74 the Sunday before the tournament.

The victory, though, does change his mojo.

“I feel like a big monkey is off my back,” said Brown, who missed 16 cuts in 24 starts last year but had three top-seven finishes. “It’s a freedom thing. You can free up and just go play golf like you’re supposed to all the time.”

• These are high times for golfers named Garcia. Spain’s Sergio Garcia tied for third at the WGC-Cadillac Championship and now has 10 consecutive top-25 finishes on the PGA and European tours combined.

Then there’s Jorge Garcia of Venezuela. The high school sophomore became the eighth-youngest player to make a PGA Tour cut when he did so in Puerto Rico at 17 years, 1 month and 5 days. He got into the event by virtue of winning the AJGA Puerto Rico Open in January. He finished 75th.

• We don’t need a computer to know Tiger Woods again is the best player in the world. Our eyes are a better source. Woods has won five of his last 18 stroke-play events on the PGA Tour, the latest a comfortable victory at the WGC-Cadillac Championship on Sunday.

The world ranking, though, says he’s No. 2. You can believe that if you’d like and then wink a couple of times. You can also suspect that the No. 2 thing is just a temporary computer thing – considering his top form and the transition period of Rory McIlroy, who rallied nicely to tie for eighth at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, thanks to a closing 65.

• World No. 3 Luke Donald on McIlroy getting off to a slow start in a season where he plans to play three or four fewer tournaments than normal: “Sometimes the best way to get out of a funk like that is just to play.”

• Donald, defending champion at the Tampa Bay Championship, is coming off some weirdness at Doral. He hit only two fewer greens in regulation than Woods but tied for 43rd. The culprits were his usually terrific short game and four double bogeys on the 18th hole. “That hole aside, it was a decent tournament,” he said.

Donald has no top-15 finishes in his first three Tour starts but says he’s not nervous or anxious because he feels he’s close with his ball-striking and his game from 100 yards and in will come around as usual.

On top of that, he feels less tension than when he was No. 1 for most of last year. “They expect results from a No. 1,” Donald said. “Then there’s added pressure you place on yourself.”

• Drive for show, putt for dough? Not always.

Brian Gay took only 93 putts at the Cadillac Championship, tying the second-lowest total in Tour history – and finished T-35. David Frost holds the record with 92 putts at the 2005 RBC Heritage. And Frost didn’t come close to slipping on a red plaid jacket that week. Rather, he tied for 38th.

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