AUGUSTA, Ga. — Sometimes, golf just swallows up talented players in a winless, sunless abyss.
It swallowed up Johnny Miller after he dominated the game for four years in the mid 1970s. Same with Tom Watson in the 1980s. For Tiger Woods, it’s been a near constant flurry of injuries and off-the-course personal issues that likely cost him the chance to become golf’s all-time major champion.
Sometimes players bounce back.
Sometimes they don’t.
Put Jordan Spieth in the former category. Now after nearly four years without a victory — years that saw him sink as low as No. 92 in the world rankings earlier this season — the Jordan Spieth Comeback Tour is all systems go after the young Texan’s victory Sunday in the Valero Texas Open.
And hey, what do you know? Just in time for the tournament where Spieth arguably plays his best. The tournament he loves the most.
Spieth feels it, even if to him his game still feels like all the pieces haven’t clicked together just yet.
“I like the progress that I'm making,” Spieth said at a news conference Monday afternoon just after flying in from his win in San Antonio. “I don't feel that I have the control of all facets of my game that I want to have yet, but I feel like I'm working the right direction.
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“Will that make a difference this week? Don't know. But I'm going to work at trying to just be a little bit better than I was last week.”
If Spieth sounds modest and makes you think twice about taking him to win in your Masters’ pool, the wise guys in Las Vegas are definitely more bullish on the former Texas Longhorn All-American.
BetOnline.ag on Monday installed Spieth as second favorite at 10/1, just behind defending Masters champion Dustin Johnson. Johnson is the guy who shot 20-under par 268 in November to break the tournament scoring record Spieth set here in 2015 by two strokes. U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau and The Players champion Justin Thomas got pushed down the list a bit to 11/1, followed by Jon Rahm, who became a first-time father Saturday, at 12/1.
It wasn’t that many weeks ago that Spieth wouldn’t have gotten good odds to make the cut here in Augusta, much less win a second green jacket.
His last victory before Sunday was a big one — the 2017 British Open at Royal Birkdale, when he dramatically came back from a wayward drop and an unplayable lie on the 13th beat Matt Kuchar by three. It was his third major after having won the Masters and U.S. Open in 2015. The career grand slam, merely requiring the PGA Championship, seemed a slam dunk. A fait accompli.
But with the golf world at his feet, suddenly the victory well that Spieth went to so often simply dried up. He finished No. 2 in the world in 2017 but didn’t win again that year. Or in 2018. Or in 2019. Or in 2020.
By the time he missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego in late January while former University High golfer Patrick Reed was winning in typically controversial fashion, it was his fifth missed cut in the his past eight starts. His chances of the career grand slam became a series of trunk slams.
At 27, Spieth was in danger of becoming an afterthought as a contender. Heck, he was an afterthought.
How did it all unravel? Spieth said he was fighting a series of mechanical issues in his game brought on by swing changes and injuries. But mostly, as with most golfers, he was just fighting with himself mentally.
“I think I needed to look back and take responsibility,” Spieth said. “It's part of the game. Some people (are) on certain levels and some people (are) on others. I mean, it's not like I lost my (PGA) Tour card. I just wasn't winning three times a year.”
Finally, the old Spieth form and confidence coalesced again. He ran off a great string of four straight finishes: fourth in Phoenix, third at Pebble Beach, 15th at Riviera in Los Angeles and another fourth in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He wobbled at The Players to tie for 48th, but was ninth in the unpredictable WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play two weeks ago in Austin, Texas, before heading down the road to win the Texas Open. There he held off a fast-charging Charlie Hoffman to win by two at 18 under 270.
The old Spieth, who doesn’t turn 28 until July, was back.
“For me it was taking ownership and this is what happened,” he said. “I believe in my team. They have proven themselves to be the best in the world, and how can we all get a little bit better through this and what steps are we going to take forward to be able to feel this momentum together as we start to make progress in the right direction and then believing that that's happening.”
No better time than now. No better place for Spieth. He’s finished in the top three at the Masters four times with two runner-up finishes. The faith folks have in him out in the desert seems warranted, now that he’s found his path out of the wilderness with a familiar turn onto Magnolia Lane.