With an opening 66, Jordan Spieth likes how his putter's working at Memorial

jordan spieth Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

With an opening 66, Jordan Spieth likes how his putter's working at Memorial

PGA Tour

With an opening 66, Jordan Spieth likes how his putter's working at Memorial

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DUBLIN, Ohio – Jordan Spieth has been saying for some time now that he’s been on a steady ascent out of the abyss, that the work and long hours he’s been putting in will pay dividends down the road, however long that road may be.

Oh, he’s still a high-wire act, mixing in magical play with mangled production. But of late, there’s been more brilliance than bleakness, more evidence that his winless drought of 22 months would soon be coming to an end. Despite the results that were anything but Spiethian, he was far from freaking out.

The latest sparkle from Spieth came Thursday in the first round of the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village, where he shot a sound 18 holes with two chip-ins and a long eagle putt to offset a few loose irons. With a 6-under-par 66 on a gloomy day at Jack Nicklaus’ place, Spieth stood one shot out of the lead.

LEADERBOARD: The Memorial

“One of those days I didn’t necessarily play like a 6-under score, but it was still a really solid day,” Spieth said. “I hit almost all the fairways, maybe missed one or two of them, and from there was able to get it on the greens. If I wasn’t, I was in a pretty good place most of the time. And then the putter was what I like to see. In the last few weeks I’ve been putting pretty well. I made a long one today and kind of knocked all the ones in that I should have made.”

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Somewhere, Nicklaus was smiling. When asked about Spieth’s recent struggles – he hasn’t won since the 2017 British Open – the Golden Bear said ahead of the tournament that Spieth would turn his fortunes around.

“You feel bad for the guy. I felt bad for him for some of his play, but I think his work ethic and desire to win and play is there and when you have that, well he will do fine,” Nicklaus said. “Jordan is trying to make some adjustments in his swing. He’s been trying this for about a year. He is paying the pains of it a little bit, but he will be better off in the end for it.

“A competitor is a competitor and a winner is a winner. And he’s both.”

And Spieth is trending. After not having a top-10 since the 2018 British Open, Spieth finished in a tie for third two weeks ago in the PGA Championship after saying his slump was over before the tournament. Then he tied for eighth in last week’s Charles Schwab Challenge.

Some critics pointed out that Spieth rode an insane putter last week, when he made nearly 500 feet of putts – a career best for him – and when the putter cooled off Sunday, so, too, did Spieth.

But that is who Spieth is. He can putt you to death, especially from long range. He can chip you into submission. He can slice and dice you with sharp short-iron play. It’s been that way throughout a career highlighted by three major titles and 11 PGA Tour victories.

And now he’s making the little putts, too, the ones that have been his bugaboo for months. At Jack’s place, he holed from 4, 5, 9 and 10 feet for birdies. Made a few clutch 5-footers for par. Canned the 35-footer foe eagle. Finished with 22 putts in all.

So, yes, he chipped in from 52 feet on 11 for birdie and from 18 feet on the fourth for par. He’s doing the little things he needs to do again, and he’s once again mixing in some long-range thrills, too.

“When the putter feels good, it frees up the rest of the game. I felt like I made every putt I needed to make,” Spieth said. “But some more work to do. I missed three greens with wedges and plugged one in a bunker with a punch 8-iron. So, I had four opportunities, ended up off the green on all of them. Some of those short clubs can certainly get a little tighter.

“All in all, I’m happy with the progress that’s been made.”

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