On the 370-yard, par-4 17th at Colonial Country Club, Jordan Spieth took a long iron and dropped his tee shot along the right side of the fairway, 234 yards away.
On his second shot, 137 yards from the pin, Spieth took a smaller iron and dumped his ball in the trap on the right side of the green.
Bad. He hoped it wouldn’t get worse.
“Please don’t plug, don’t plug, don’t plug, don’t plug, don’t plug, don’t plug. Please don’t plug,” Spieth, never shy to encourage his ball mid-flight, said audibly on the telecast.
On his third shot, about 66 feet from the hole, Spieth’s right leg stood out of the front of the bunker, his left leg was just barely in it, and the ball was on the upslope of the trap. He was tied for the Charles Schwab Challenge lead at that point. He took just more than a three-quarter swing it trickled to within about 5 feet, and he made the par save.
Spieth showed every shot during Saturday’s third round, which he entered a shot behind one leader and left a shot behind another leader after a 2-under 68. He showed, too, that his good and great can be greater than the bad. Should the three-time major winner win his first tournament since the 2017 Open Championship, he’ll need to show that once again.
“Today was a day where I look at the last couple years and potentially say that would have been a 2- or 3-over and taken me all the way out of the tournament, and I like the progression I’ve been able to make,” Spieth said after the round. “I feel comfortable going into tomorrow that I can shoot a good score. If it happens, it happens, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But I learned a bit about what was going on when I really felt kind of the nerves kick in today, and hopefully compensate for that tomorrow and hit some better shots.”
Saturday’s front nine was plenty good.
A birdie at 4 tied him for the lead. A birdie at 9 gave him the outright lead.
The back nine was a scramble. He made eight pars. His bogey on the 15th dropped him into a share for the leader, and Xander Schauffele took it for good when he birdied the 18th.
“I felt like I actually hit it better on the back than the front but just didn’t make anything,” he said.
Spieth is not alone near the top of the leaderboard.
Justin Thomas, Gary Woodland, Branden Grace and Collin Morikawa are tied with him at 12-under. Two others are a shot behind them. Six more are two shots behind, including world No. 1 Rory McIlroy.
That’s good. Spieth believes his good and great are greater than all of them.
“It’s a bunched leaderboard now with a lot of great players, so you know, you’ve got to expect someone is going to shoot a low one, so I think for me, I’m just going to kind of fire away. I think I’m going to go off a low round, obviously, picking where to do so,” he said.