South Carolina golfer on the leader board after Friday's play at the Masters
During Tuesday’s practice round at the 81st Masters, I watched Jordan Spieth make the day of a 10-year-old boy just by saying hello and handing him a cold water from the players’ cooler. It’s the kind of thing that makes it hard not to root for a guy.
Full disclosure: That 10-year-old was my son, so I’m completely in the bag for Spieth forever in some sense. Still, this has to be said: The golfer who once looked like he was born to play this course and contend at this event was on a rough run until late in the day Friday.
Through 12 holes of the second round, Spieth was 3-over-par for the tournament and seven shots off the lead. Then the old magic came back as the 23-year-old Texan birdied Nos. 13, 16 and 18 to get to even par and four shots off the lead heading into the weekend.
After the round, Spieth was asked how much better he felt than he had at the turn.
“Significantly,” he replied. “From yesterday at this point in time, drastically.
“It was a really good day today at Augusta National. We’re in a position now where I think I can go out and win this thing and, certainly, make a run. That right there just kind of gives me chills because after yesterday I was really disappointed being 10 shots off the lead.”
In his first three Masters appearances, Spieth has one green jacket and two ties for second, which it must be stipulated, sets the bar outrageously high for all future performances. He started his Masters career with nine consecutive rounds of par or better. His average score in that span was 68.8. Since then, he has broken par once (that being with Friday’s 69) and his scoring average is 72.8.
He made it look so easy from the moment he stepped on the grounds, but it didn’t look easy most of the day Friday. He missed a 10-foot putt on No. 2, a 7-footer on No. 4 and another 7-footer on No. 7.
“My speed control is not ideal right now, not where we are used to having it here, which is why the putts have not been going in,” he said. “It’s not anything but speed control and that’s what I’m going to need to significantly improve to see some putts from midrange go in, and you have to make those on the weekend here to win the tournament.”
Finding the speed will be more difficult for everyone Saturday and Sunday, Spieth predicted.
“I think these greens are going to bake out and you’re going to see putting become a lot more difficult than it was,” he said. “I think the putts are going to be a lot more challenging because the greens are going to be a foot faster, and they are going to get a bit crusty around some of the hole locations.”
Even with his fast finish, Spieth looks a little off his usually pristine game. He’s hitting just 54 percent of his fairways and 69 percent of his greens in the first two rounds. On Thursday, he made a quadruple bogey 9 on No. 15 thanks to making the wrong club choice, a decision that still irks him.
“Part of me is thinking, ‘What if we had those four strokes back?’” he said Friday evening.
The Masters needs a clicking Spieth this weekend and into the future. In fact, Augusta National needs Spieth more than Spieth needs Augusta National. His seat at the champions dinner is reserved in perpetuity. He’s already made more money than a sane person could spend in a lifetime.
This event needs Spieth’s decency. He knows neither me nor my son from Adam’s housecat. He simply made a classy gesture at a place that prides itself on classy.
This event needs his star power. The crowd gave him a big cheer as he walked up to the 18th green and an even bigger one when he rolled in his birdie putt Friday. He is exactly the type of player the galleries here always have loved to rally around.
“The crowds are great, and they have been so gracious to me in our history out here,” he said. “It’s just incredible to play in front of them. We look forward to the gallery feeding us.”
Mostly, though, this event needs Spieth’s A-game. On Friday evening, it got some hope that that is returning.