Jordan Spieth just played a very strange round of golf at the Northern Trust
Pretty much everything about the final round of golf at the Northern Trust was a bit strange.
Zero golf on Sunday. Zero spectators on Monday. Nine inches of rain in the meantime.
But Jordan Spieth’s round was stranger than most.
Spieth entered the day in the tournament limbo of 34th place, nine shots off the lead. Because tournament organizers were trying to complete the final round as quickly as possible, they sent threesomes off both No. 1 and No. 10 tees, which meant the players at the top of the leaderboard went off No. 1 last, the players at the bottom of the leaderboard went off No. 10 last and the players in the middle went off first.
Spieth, Patton Kizzire and Zach Johnson were first off No. 1. Spieth made bogey at No. 1 but got it back with birdie at No. 4. Ho-hum. Entering the week at No. 2 in the FedEx Cup, Spieth’s ticket was already well-punched to next week’s BMW. Still, he had 14 holes still to play.
Holes 5-8 at Liberty National are two par-4s and two par-5s. If you go through ’em 4-4-4-4, you’ve done well. Spieth went 5-5-5-5. At No. 9, things got worse. He tugged his tee shot into the left water, dropped, then hit his next shot into the water, too. He walked off with triple-bogey 7 to make the turn at five-over 41.
At No. 10, Spieth missed wide right off the tee. He took another drop — his third in two holes — and chopped out to the fairway. Then he found the front bunker from 180 yards, failed to get up-and-down and walked off with another triple-bogey 7. Another bogey at 12 left him nine over par.
What do we make of a Monday Spieth implosion? Let’s test out a few storylines:
1. “Spieth is so inconsistent!”
It’s tempting to say that this is classic Spieth, full boom or bust. But that doesn’t really bear out; Spieth has actually been remarkably steady in 2021. He’s made 15 cuts in a row, including nine top-10s and 13 top-20s in those starts. He has ascended to World No. 10. He hasn’t shot 76 or worse in a non-major this season, and his last round in the 80s came nearly a year ago at the U.S. Open, when he missed the cut at Winged Foot. So this theory doesn’t hold much water at present.
2. “Spieth can’t play final rounds!”
There’s something intriguing about this one, since Spieth’s final rounds have been decidedly mixed this season. Entering the week, he ranked 38th in Round 1 Scoring Average, 44th in Round 2, fourth in Round 3 and yet just 112th in Round 4. He averaged 68.65 strokes on Saturdays and 70.65 on Sundays.
But those substandard rounds mostly came in one stretch earlier this season, when Spieth was in the lead or near it and shot some high-profile 75s. Another statistic tells another story: In Final Round Performance, which measures the percentage of time golfers improve their leaderboard standing in the last round of a tournament, Spieth is 13th on Tour at 76.5%. He’s actually steadier than it seems.
3. “Spieth makes way too many big numbers!”
Meh. Sure, I guess? Spieth makes 2.54 bogeys per round, which is T81 on Tour and just 0.2 fewer than average. Put another way: He makes bogey 15.64% of the time, T79 on Tour. That’s not great, but it’s also in the same ballpark as Xander Schauffele, Dustin Johnson and Viktor Hovland, so it’s hardly crisis mode. And in the fascinating “Reverse Bounce Back” stat, which measures how often a player follows a birdie with a bogey, Spieth is T56 at 14.07%. That’s a serious improvement over last season, where Spieth finished 183 out of 193.
So yes, Spieth would benefit from making fewer bogeys. But so would you and I.
So none of the statistical storylines help us make complete sense of a couple triple-bogeys. Instead, let’s just enjoy Spieth’s final round for what it truly was: A statistical outlier and a reminder that golf is full of fascinating minutiae. Perhaps the strangest bit of all: Spieth had made back-to-back eagles on Friday before back-to-back triples on Monday, which stats guru Justin Ray says doesn’t happen. Like, ever:
So how did Spieth’s round finish up? Beautifully. He made bogey at 12. Birdie at 13. Birdie at 14. Bogey at 15. Birdie at 16. He got up-and-down for a rare par at 17 but got back on the rollercoaster for one final bogey at 18. That, folks, is how you break 80.
Spieth didn’t speak to reporters after his round, and it’s not clear he was asked. Most 73rd-place finishers aren’t. But some scorecards speak for themselves.