Jordan Spieth soaks in a 75 during lackluster Players Championship opener

May 10, 2018; Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, USA; Jordan Spieth plays his shot from the 16th tee during the first round of The Players Championship golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass - Stadium Course. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Spieth soaks in a 75 during lackluster Players Championship opener

PGA Tour

Jordan Spieth soaks in a 75 during lackluster Players Championship opener

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Driving accuracy is an important factor in success at TPC Sawgrass, so at first blush Jordan Spieth’s driving statistics would seem to suggest he enjoyed a decent outing in the first round of the Players Championship. After all, he hit 11 of 14 fairways and his strokes gained off the tee number showed him more than two shots to the good on the field.

But being in the fairway doesn’t help much if you’re losing almost 4.5 strokes to the world’s best on approach shots, which explains why the three-time major winner limped to a crummy 75 on Thursday, leaving him nine shots off the pace and struggling to make the cut.

“At Augusta I didn’t feel like I played that great and I was somewhere near the leaderboard and out here I felt like I didn’t play that bad and I’m like in last,” he said of a round during which he rinsed three balls.

Spieth played in an all-star group with Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas, whose bid to become World No. 1 this week was hobbled by a 1-over 73. McIlroy was low man with a 71.

The 3-over-par total continues a run of poor results at TPC Sawgrass for Spieth, who hasn’t played the weekend here since he tied for fouth in his first appearance in 2014. He hasn’t broken 70 since the second round that year.

The tone for his day was set with a three-putt from 6 feet at his first hole (the 10th). On the par-5 11th he drowned his second shot on the way to another bogey. He drove the green on the short par-4 12th and made eagle, but that high lasted only as long as it took him to get to the 13th tee, where he lost another ball to the deep and made double-bogey. The lowlight came on the par-5 16th hole. He had 233 yards to the green but fanned it right, where it splashed down a distant 88 feet from the pin.

Spieth tried to remain upbeat afterward, insisting that some of his misses were by miniscule margins, crippled by gusts of wind. Some may have been, but not all.

Inconsistency doesn’t fly at TPC Sawgrass

No player on the PGA Tour has a greater penchant for producing roller-coaster rounds, mixing thrilling highs with stomach-churning dives. That might suffice at some venues, but Pete Dye’s celebrated design is harshly unforgiving of Spieth’s trademark inconsistency.

“On other golf courses some of the shots he hit today he probably would have got away with and made pars, but around here you hit one slightly errant shot and you’re making a double,” McIlroy said. “It just sort of magnifies your misses.”

For all of the ugly moments Spieth produced today, McIlroy sees no cause for concern. He points to his own struggles earlier this season, when a run of poor form ended abruptly with a victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“Look, the way I played at the Honda and Valspar, no one would have thought I would have went to Bay Hill and won,” he said. “It’s never that far away. And that’s basically what he was saying to me, it’s not too far away. He figured a couple things out at Houston and Augusta and he played pretty well. I actually thought he drove the ball really, really well. It’s the best I’ve seen him drive it in a long time. He’s not putting like the Jordan that we know.”

That’s an understatement. With half the field still on the course, Spieth ranked well outside the top 100 in strokes gained putting for the day. Thursday was an anomaly in his iron play, a category in which he ranks eighth on Tour this season. But what is becoming apparent is that his putter — once considered his Excalibur, a weapon of almost mythical power — can no longer compensate for his more wayward shots. Just two years ago he was No. 2 in strokes gained putting for the season, and ninth the year prior. So far this season: 187th.

Spieth tees off in the second round on Friday at 1:52 p.m. Eastern. A good round — like his thrilling final round 64 at the Masters — could propel him from apparent oblivion back into the mix. He’s done that before. More play of the same caliber we saw Thursday points to a missed cut. That’s a familiar result too, particularly at the Players.

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