SILVIS, Ill. - Through 22 holes at TPC Deere Run, Jordan Spieth looked aggravated and played uninspired. An early exit was a very real possibility and an earlier-than-planned trip across the pond would have been worth consideration.
Then he flagged his approach and tapped in for birdie at the par-4 14th.
“I had like a 2-footer to get going,” he said.
And off he went.
Spieth went on a tear, playing a seven-hole stretch from No. 14 to No. 2 in 6 under on Friday. It was part of a 7-under 64 that got him off the cut line and into contention at the John Deere Classic.
Quote Spieth: “Solid round when I needed to play well just to avoid going home.”
The latter option looked like a real possibility after an opening 71 left him eight shots out of the lead. Spieth admitted after Thursday’s round that he was shaking off a decent amount rust that had built up during his post-U.S. Open break. He took a full week off from golf of any kind to head to the Bahamas and then spent the next week exclusively in the practice area.
Asked what changed from Thursday to Friday: “Just another round of golf,” he answered. “This is the third round of golf I’ve played since the U.S. Open, with the pro-am Wednesday being the first full round and then yesterday. It’s just repetitions. I’m getting on-course reps, and it’s making a difference.”
The real difference was his putter, which refused to cooperate in Round 1 and then wouldn’t stop pouring the ball in the hole in Round 2.
Spieth needed to use it only 25 times Friday, compared to the 31 he needed Thursday, when he missed seven birdie chances from inside 15 feet. He went from 125th in the strokes gained-putting in Round 1 to first in Round 2.
Yes, the 2-footer at No. 14 got him going, but it was his birdie make from 24 feet on the par-3 16th that set him up for a run.
“That putt on 16 was really big,” he said. “I knew I had a lot of birdie holes left, but I knew I needed to steal one that I maybe didn’t think I could get. And then, obviously, from there, that stretch of 18-1-2 went perfect.”
Perfect as in birdie-birdie-eagle.
He made three straight 3s, capped off by an eagle at the par-5 second. After finding the fairway, Spieth ripped a second shot from 241 yards that landed short of the hole and rolled to 4 feet. It was his first red number of any kind on a par 5 this week, after turning in two-putt pars on each of his first five attempts.
He seemed poised to add yet another birdie at the uphill par-3 third but – at that point surprisingly – missed a putt from 8 feet. It was a miss that nearly stalled his momentum.
Spieth, for the second time in as many days, smacked his drive at the par-4 fourth off the tree that splits the middle of the fairway. The ball bounded into the right rough and could barely be seen from just a few feet away. Unable to get any spin on the ball, he couldn’t hold the green.
After how poorly he chipped Thursday – it was his short game he spent the most time bemoaning after that round – Spieth seemed poised to give a shot back. Instead, he hit a high flop 4 feet from the cup, sank the putt, and got out of there.
Two holes later, following a birdie at 5, he made his worst swing of the day with an iron, pulling his approach from the middle of the fairway well left of the green and nearly into an unplayable area. This time the flop didn’t get nearly as close. Staring at a 12-footer, he made it again.
Those two par saves and Nos. 4 and 6 kept what could have been a leaky ship afloat and immediately led to birdies on both 5 and 7.
With the putter and the wedge game looking typically sharp, Spieth will need to clean up his play off the tee if he wants to win his second Deere title this weekend. In addition to the mishap at No. 4, he clipped a tree at 17, and wound up lucky to make par after a 180-yard drive. His only dropped shot of the day, at the par-4 eighth, was set up by a wayward drive that required a pitch-out.
“I’m still searching for answers with the driver,” he admitted. “My driver is not treating me well this week.”
Neither did the putter and wedges on Thursday. And look what happened Friday.