Jordan Spieth, while waiting to putt on the 17th hole at TPC Scottsdale, heard a crash and turned around. Five-thousand fans were allowed into the Waste Management Phoenix Open, and one of them broke his green chair about 30 yards away and fell backward. Spieth applauded. “He’s definitely feeling loose,” analyst and former Tour caddie John Wood said on the NBC broadcast.
Spieth rolled in the 29-footer putt.
“Wow,” analyst Paul Azinger said on the broadcast.
“Hey, remember me?” analyst David Feherty said.
“It’s all too much to absorb,” announcer Dan Hicks said.
“Jordan Spieth is back,” Azinger said.
Maybe call it b-a-c. The K will have to come on Sunday. Winless since the 2017 Open Championship, Spieth’s almost there. He birdied 17. Which preceded birds on 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11, 13, 15 and 16, the total of 10 the most in his career. He finished with a career-low-tying 10-under 61. Which followed back-to-back rounds of 67. Spieth’s tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele entering Sunday.
“It feels good. I feel good right now,” Spieth said. “I’m excited about the position I’m in. I don’t have — I’ll be nervous, but not because I feel extra pressure to have to do anything. Just because I haven’t been in the last group holding the lead in a while. That’s something you get more comfortable with the more times you do it.”
For a stretch, that’s all he did. From 2013 to 2017, Spieth won 11 times on the PGA Tour and twice internationally, including three majors. He spent 26 weeks as the world’s No. 1 player. Spieth’s now 92nd. He hasn’t won since the 2017 Open Championship. He and everyone else has tried to figure out why.
Like the man through his chair, Spieth broke through on Saturday. His birdie binge:
The 554-yard par-5 3rd. He was home in two and two-putted from there. The 188-yard par-3 4th. A 19-footer for birdie. The 447-yard par-4 6th. He hooked his drive, took relief from the cart path, then hit within 4 feet. The 487-yard par-4 8th. A 10-footer for birdie. Nine holes, four birdies.
Then nine holes, six birdies. The 433-yard par-4 10th. He hooked his drive, hit his approach over the green — and chipped in from 68 feet. “Once it left the blade, I knew it was the right pace,” Spieth said. The 480-yard par-4 11th. A 9-incher for birdie. “Is this 2016, 2017?” Hicks said on the broadcast. “What is this?” The 548-yard par-5 13th. A 4-footer for eagle, which he missed. The 568-yard par-5 15th. Another near-miss eagle, this time from 25 feet. The 129-yard par-3 16th. A 36-foot bomb. And finally, the 29-footer on 17.
“I’m kind of tapping in — you know, I hit a number of shots today that were like — and as I took it back transitionally I knew exactly where that was going to go,” Spieth said. “That’s what I’m trying to find. I mean, that seems like something that we should do all the time because it’s our job, but when you kind of need to make some adjustments and you got to trust it in a tournament, it becomes more challenging.
“So it was nice. I mean, the putts at the end were a big bonus. I was trying to hit three greens and maybe make one birdie coming in on the last three holes, so to play two under from the position I was in was stealing a couple there. So just excited about the round. Happy with no bogeys. Really happy only missing a couple greens in regulation the whole day. Obviously regardless of where I hit, some tee shots got offline today, so need to tighten it up a little bit for tomorrow to play a more consistent round.”
On Sunday, Spieth will be joined in the final grouping with Schauffele, who’s fourth in the world, and Scottie Scheffler, who’s three shots back. World No. 3 Justin Thomas, one of Spieth’s closest friends, is four back. Four-time major champ Brooks Koepka is five behind. Spieth hasn’t had a 54-hole lead or a share of it since 2018 at the Open Championship. Will he be nervous? Yes, understandably.
Will he be loose?
“I’m committed to committing,” Spieth said. “I’m committed to trusting. I’m committed to — I mean, you know, again, I really — I can’t stress enough, I don’t feel the need to win. Instead, I feel the need to trust my swing, make progress, and the way it’s gone this week, you know, I can continue to roll in some putts, then hopefully gets to the last few holes and I have a chance to win. You let the crowd feed off that, and then you become super competitive.”