Jordan Spieth's grinding ensures we have a great Byron Nelson finish ahead of us
His confidence is shaky, but Jordan Spieth is set to square off vs. Brooke Koepka and the field Sunday
IRVING, Texas -- It's no secret how much it would mean to not only Jordan Spieth but also his adoring hometown fans for the Golden Child to win the AT&T Byron Nelson. He talked about it immediately after missing the cut at The Players Championship last weekend.
"That's an event that, growing up, I've always wanted to win and haven't really had a chance to win since I was 16," said Spieth. He has a chance this year. Spieth is 14 under and two back of leader Brooks Koepka after three rounds after a 3-under 67 on Saturday.
The problem right now is that Spieth sounds like how I feel after dropping a 92 at my local municipal course. He slammed clubs and fumed silently all over the course on Saturday. He seemed impermeable to the roars. He looked lost for a few holes off the tee. He said he felt that way too.
"I was just trying all kinds of stuff today ... if I had a 9 iron in my hands and it was on the green I was pleased," said Spieth. "I'm being brutally honest with you. It's very difficult for me to stand up here and not be positive given I'm at 14 under and contending in this tournament, but if you guys knew the kind of stress I felt over the golf ball right now trying to put my swing in the right position. It is a challenge, especially with the amount of difficult tee shots out here and trouble that guard at least one side of most of the fairways."
If that doesn't inspire a hometown crowd to bring him home his first win in his home state of Texas, I'm not sure what will! The thing is ... he's not really wrong. Spieth was blocking -- I mean, hard blocking -- drives and shots all day. It got so bad by the end of his round that he pulled an iron on the 429-yard par-4 18th hole.
"I've never been one to lay up," said Spieth. "For me to take iron on 18 means that there's an uncomfortable level there that, you know, I don't know what to say."
The saving grace for Spieth on Saturday was his always-magical flatstick. Spieth ranked No. 81 out of the 83 golfers who made the cut in approach shot proximity to the hole in the third round. His average distance from the cup on approach shots was 46 (!) feet. How did he shoot 67? How about 11 one-putts and 2.37 strokes gained putting.
"Some of those up and downs on the front nine were just kind of ridiculous," admitted Spieth. "I mean they surprised me that I was able to get them up and down, and those are the shots that I practice all the time, you know. I was in some really, really tough spots and was a very stressful round of golf to play because I just don't have confidence over the ball right now. It's very frustrating and actually putting incredible to still be in this tournament."
His day on the greens included an all-time birdie on the 17th hole.
Somehow, as all the great grinders are capable of doing, Spieth willed himself to a round that included just two bogeys and played his way into the final pairing on Sunday with leader Brooks Koepka (who is 16 under, two up on Spieth). This is what historically great players do.They convince you they have no shot and next thing you know they're hoisting a trophy and cashing a $1 million check.
"I still feel like it's a normal tournament," said Spieth. "[I'm] normally not in contention without having a go-to ball flight, and that's what I'm going to try to get tomorrow. It's something that I can certainly get by the time I tee off tomorrow with the right feel on the range and at least seeing a couple of them on the golf course."
The good news for Spieth, other than having a putter so hot he might have to use Ian Poulter's Ryder Cup mittens on Sunday, is that the golfer he's going against might be hitting it worse than he is.
"Today I hit the ball terrible," said Koepka who shot a 65. I laughed just typing that. "It wasn't anything to brag about at all. I felt like throughout the whole round. It was kind of embarrassing."
Koepka was No. 1 in the field on Saturday in strokes gained putting. He had 14 one-putts and only needed 22 putts total en route to his 5-under 65. He was even better than Spieth was on the greens. He knows he'll go toe-to-toe with one of the best short games in the world on Sunday.
"I'm putting it so well," said Koepka. "I feel like I'm putting into an ocean right now. Just about every time Jordan tees it up it has to be a putting contest. That's what it feels like."
These two yukked it up all over the course on Saturday. Koepka said they were talking hoops rather than swing mechanics but also that they both knew they didn't have their best stuff. In a weird way, not having that go-to shot Spieth talked about might have helped them.
"I think sometimes when you're not playing your best you're more mentally there, you're trying to grind it out a little bit harder," said Koepka. "You really got to come in with a good game plan. Manage yourself around the golf course. That's kind of what we're doing right now even though today wasn't that good."
Hopefully for Koepka the putter stays hot because you know Spieth is coming.
After a two-month stretch in which we got mostly first-time PGA Tour winners, Sunday has a chance to be special: Two of what could be the pillars of the U.S. Ryder Cup team over 18 holes for the Nelson.
Spieth for his city. Koepka for his first win of 2016.
Saturday proved to me that both can deliver even when they're lost. Sunday might prove which player is better at finding his game when he needs it most.
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