PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Jordan Spieth had just rolled in a 31-foot birdie putt from the front fringe, and now he was slapping the palms of his fans on the way to the eighth tee. The Snoopy blimp hummed overhead, the sun sparkled, and fans waved their free orange Hooters visors.
Spieth would sign for a 68 to make the cut by two shots in the second round of the Valspar Championship at at Innisbrook on Friday.
“I’m still in this tournament,” he said.
Who’s to say he isn’t? He’s in 43rd place, just seven shots behind co-leaders Will MacKenzie (67) and Steve Stricker (66). Two of the last three winners here, John Senden and Kevin Streelman, have been seven or more shots back going into the weekend. So maybe Spieth isn’t dead after all.
If you were listening to the fans, or at least the fantasy leaguers, you’d have thought he was a hack and a has-been at 22. The takes had been hot, the tweets had gotten personal, and the news cycle had spun everyone into a frothy frenzy of stupidity — all of it touched off by Spieth’s 76 on Thursday.
Nobody cared that the breezy course played so hard that that first-round scoring average of 2.198 over par was the second highest this year (Honda Classic, 2.329) and the highest in the history of this tournament. No one cared that even in benign conditions the Copperhead can make your score look like you played with 13 lead pipes and a garden trowel.
Spieth had finished 17th at the WGC-Cadillac at Doral, missed the cut at the Northern Trust, and finished 21st at the AT&T Pebble Beach. Now that he’d stunk it up at the Valspar, the reaction was swift and merciless. He was finished. He was too reliant on his putter and merely average at every other facet of the game. Wait! No. He was “GARBAGE” when his putter wasn’t on, according to one nasty Instagram comment. Spieth tweeted back, calling the critic a “troll” and admonishing him/her to “do research before hating.”
“You’ll probably never see me do that again,” he said Friday.
Spieth also rebuked the PGA Tour for its Twitter feed, which quoted him saying, “What good is kicking the door other than hurting my foot and (having to) withdraw?” (“Seriously?” he said. “That’s the quote you’re going to use out of that article?”) The Tour deleted the offending tweet.
“It was a good article,” he said after his round Friday, “but it was tweeted the wrong way, the wrong quote was used and it made it seem like I was okay with getting hurt and withdrawing.”
And there was still more! Rory McIlroy rushed to Spieth’s side on Twitter: “No, he’s not TW, he’s not slumping and he’s not done! He’s a double major winning 22 year old. He’ll be just fine!!”
Sure enough, after Spieth had spoken by phone to his coach Cameron McCormick on Thursday night, the World No. 1 came back strong Friday.
Granted, he made an ugly bogey at the par-5 first hole, taking an unplayable after hooking his drive into a bush. But his 6-iron approach shot at the par-4 third hole never left the stick and he rolled in the birdie putt. He made birdies from just off the green at the par-5 fifth, par-4 seventh and par-3 15th holes. He made a tough two-putt par to keep the round going at the nasty 16th. He hit seven fairways, 10 greens. He did what he had to do.
“There’s going to be plenty of people that don’t like the way I play the game or handle things,” Spieth said. “I’ve just got to be confident in what I’m doing and know that many more do appreciate it.”
He finished up his media obligations and began taking selfies with a long line of fans, stopping to talk to many of them. He signed tickets and programs and photos, and even a few orange Hooters visors.
Spieth was dead. Spieth lives. Check back tomorrow.