Jordan Spieth shows nerves of steel at Masters 0
Jordan Spieth (Mike Blake, Reuters)
As you watch Jordan Spieth roam the hills and valleys of Augusta National, it’s hard not to think you’re watching the heir apparent to the mantle that Tiger Woods assumed on this same acreage some 17 years ago.
Oh, Spieth’s first Masters has not been the dominating tour de force that Woods displayed in 1997, but if the 20-year-old wins the green jacket Sunday evening, he will be the youngest man ever to do so.
On Saturday, Spieth had ice-water in his veins on a day that tried many older, experienced men’s patience. When it was over, he found himself tied for the lead with Bubba Watson, and appeared more than ready to go toe-to-toe with the 2012 Masters champ in Sunday’s final pairing.
Everybody is eager to see how the youngster responds in the crucible of Augusta National’s back nine on Sunday, but no one is more eager to find out that than Spieth himself.
“You draw on memories of guys that have made the putts on the last hole; from Phil to Tiger to last year with Adam (Scott) on 18 and then on 10,” said Spieth. “You just dream of what it would mean and how cool it would be and all those putts I hit when I was real young with my friends on trying to make it to win the Masters.
“You know, I would love the opportunity to test it tomorrow.”
Spieth has played like a 20-year veteran on a course that demands a mature, considered approach.
“I have a lot of respect for this golf course,” he said. “It seems by the scores to be playing as difficult as it has in quite a while, and with that, you have to just accept par and accept the fact that you’re going to have some wicked fast putts and you’ve got to really be on your game and your speed control, even when you do hit the smart shot. So it’s not like hitting the smart shot gets you an easy par. You still have to work for it and that’s why I’ll lose some more hair as we go on this week.”
Spieth’s rounds of 71, 70 and 70 do not sound at all spectacular, just the solid stuff that it takes when you play major championship golf. He said he sometimes wrestles with himself before giving in to the conservative game plan that the golf course rquires.
“I’ve never picked so many targets at the middle of the greens when I’ve seen the pins on the side and committed to it,” he said. “It’s one thing to pick targets in the middle of the greens, and then I always go away from that. Michael (his caddy) is always like: ‘Right there. Right there.’
“And I’m like: ‘Well, I want to go at the pin,’ but you can’t do it here.”
Spieth talks to himself on almost every shot. It’s almost a running conversation he carries on with himself.
“I’m 20 and this is the Masters, and this is a tournament I’ve always dreamt about and, like Mr. (Ben) Crenshaw has always said, it brings out more emotion than ever in somebody.
“As far as being patient shot‑to‑shot, I think I’ve done the best that I’ve ever had with my mental game. But yeah, I’m still going to talk to myself out there. Really a lot of it is just kind of guiding myself, trying to pump myself up and be really positive, which is abnormal. I mean, typically, I’m quiet.”
By Sunday evening, there’s a good chance, when he talks to himself, he’ll be addressing the youngest Masters champ in history.
Make room Tiger, you may have company.
JIMENEZ PREACHES PATIENCE
On a day when Augusta National was kicking butt and taking names, Miguel Angel Jimenez found a path through the minefield that took him to an astounding round of six-under-par 66 and from 37th place to a share of fifth at the Masters heading into the final round.
For the colourful Spaniard, it came a day after he shot 76 on the same golf course.
“The difference?” he said, “It’s very easy. I played with patience today. Friday, maybe, I was so anxious that you want to see things happen, maybe seeing the birdies coming before you even hit the shot. That’s what happened yesterday.
“Today, I knew I needed to be patient to be in my zone. When you’re not patient, especially on this golf course, you pay the bill, then you’re off your pace for the whole day.
“That’s the secret. You have to keep that rhythm and keep on your song.”
However he did it, Jimenez, at the age of 50, is in a position to win the first major championship of his career.
“That would mean a lot,” he said. “I have plenty of victories in my career, but having a major would be amazing. That would be the flower on top.
“I will try. I will try. If I can control the ball, I have my chances.”
KUCHAR BACK IN SPOTLIGHT
It’s been 16 years since Matt Kuchar charmed the galleries at Augusta National as a 19-year-old amateur, making thousands of friends with just a big old goofy smile.
In the intervening years, Kuchar has taken a long, hard road back to prominence on these fairways and Sunday, he hopes to impress those same folks with his game as he goes for a green jacket, playing in the second-last grouping of the day with Sweden’s Jonas Blixt. They begin the day at four-under-par, one shot behind co-leaders Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson.
“I’m really excited for tomorrow,” said Kuchar, who shot a solid round of 68 Saturday. “This is a position all of us hope to be in when we show up on Monday or Tuesday. You hope that your game is ready. You hope that you play good golf Thursday, Friday, Saturday and you’ve got a chance in one of the last groups on Sunday. It’s one of those special places and awfully exciting to be in this situation.”
Kuchar has finished in the top 10 the past two years and has become one of the steadiest players on the PGA Tour. He’s played here enough to know how much experience means.
“I think you hear most of the commentary that experience really has a lot to do with playing well here, and you see the likes of Fred Couples do well and you kind of chalk it up to a guy with a lot of experience playing this golf course,” he said. It definitely helps.
“So even more amazing to see what a guy like Jordan Spieth is doing in his first tournament, and to be right in contention to have a shot to win tomorrow. It’s pretty amazing for a first‑timer.”