Following a month off and a short recovery after testing positive for COVID-19, nobody really knew what to expect from Jordan Spieth in Round 1 of the 2021 AT&T Byron Nelson at TPC Craig Ranch. So of course, he delivered the full Jordan Spieth Experience.
There were chunked chips, thinned irons, insane recovery shots and lots and lots and lots of birdies. Spieth shot a 9-under 63 in Round 1, but his scorecard belies the roller coaster everyone watched for four hours on Thursday afternoon.
Chief among the entertainment was an approach from a very Spiethian position on the 12th hole. After Spieth drove it way out to the right on the 558-yard hole, Golf Channel broadcaster Colt Knost -- who was following Spieth's group -- was hollering about how Spieth should just chip out and get to a more playable position on the long par 5, and I don't think anyone watching disagreed. So of course, Spieth hit a 3-wood from 247 yards to 9 feet to setup an eagle attempt (which he, of course, missed).
From there, the ride got a little bumpy coming home (a chunked chip on No. 14 and nearly-bladed tee shot on No. 15 were eye-openers), but Spieth held it together on a day where, if you were not at least 3 under, you were not moving the right direction. Then he slammed the door on the 18th with a truly ridiculous 55-foot eagle that led to a reaction so loud from the Texas crowd you would have thought the price of oil set a new all-time record high.
"We're not necessarily doing it for the roars," said Spieth, "but it's a cool bonus at the end when it caps off a round like that."
Add it all up (which may take a while), and at +225 he's now the favorite to win his (sort of) hometown event for the first time in his career. He somewhat-surprisingly has no top 10s at this tournament, which is difficult to believe given the lack of great fields at the Nelson and Spieth's general greatness for a decade.
Spieth said on the No Laying Up podcast earlier this week that competing against and beating the best in the world was "like a drug" to him, something that drives him to try and master a game that is imperfect-able. I think those following along feel the same about his style of play, perhaps for different reasons or in a different way than Spieth meant it. Thursday was in so many ways emblematic of that.
He has been the best player in the world for the last three months, and Round 1 -- following that four-week layoff and after going through COVID-19 -- was also a bit of validation that this was not just a run of hot play leading into the Masters. That's important with the PGA Championship on deck next weekend, and it may lead to real contention from Spieth for the first time in his career at a PGA Tour event that would be among the most meaningful wins of his career.
Here's a look at the rest of the leaderboard through 18 holes of play on Thursday.
T1. Jordan Spieth, J.J. Spaun (-9): Spaun probably does not have staying power on a board that's fairly loaded, but he struck it really well throughout the bag in Round 1. Sometimes, when guys shoot 63 on Thursday, you can attribute it mostly to a hot putter, but Spaun gained just 1 of his nearly 6 strokes with the flat stick. He's missed seven of his last 10 cuts.
T3. Doc Redman, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Aaron Wise (-8): This crew led to maybe the two best tweets I saw regarding this event on Thursday.
Is Rafa Cabrera Bello Euro Charley Hoffman?— Carrforthecourse (@Carr4thecourse) May 13, 2021
Maybe the play is just to take Aaron Wise whenever the Nelson changes venues— Will Gray (@WillGrayGC) May 13, 2021
T6. Ben Martin, Seamus Power, Charl Schwartzel, Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Sam Burns, Mark Hubbard, Jhonattan Vegas, Alex Noren, K.H. Lee, Charles Howell: We discussed this after the round on the First Cut Podcast, but the guy out of this group that I actually might like the most over the next three days is ... K.H. Lee. He was phenomenal from tee to green on Thursday, and at 66-1 on a wild course like this where 7 under could miss the cut, I like guys with longer odds going into Round 2.
T32. Scottie Scheffler (-5): Scheffler was in the all-Dallas group with Spieth and Will Zalatoris, and speaking of roller coaster rounds, he shot a 67 with exactly zero pars over his last 11 holes. I'm not entirely sure how that's possible, but he's definitely in the mix going into Friday's early second round with Spieth (who he'll have to try and keep up with).
T53. Jon Rahm (-4): What a strange event when Rahm can shoot 68 and not be inside the top 50 on the leaderboard but also be one of the favorites going into the second round (he's currently 16-1 with only two golfers having shorter odds). His nearly 2 strokes lost on approach shots do not engender a lot of confidence following a missed cut last week at the Wells Fargo Championship.
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