AUGUSTA, Ga. – We’ve seen this before.
The “it” player laying haymakers on a Masters field and leaving Augusta National officials pondering new tee boxes on the far side of Washington Road and hole locations cut into the side of Rae’s Creek.
Let the comparisons commence.
Jordan Spieth, like Tiger Woods in 1997, has spent two days dismantling the course and demoralizing the field. Both began the week 21 years old, both gained control early in their respective quests for their first green jacket and both carry an intense aversion to playing defense on a golf course that favors the bold.
Woods’ week at the 1997 Masters began with slightly less ado following opening rounds of 70-66 for a meager, relatively speaking, three-stroke advantage. He would go on to win by a dozen.
So what do we make of Spieth’s 36-hole barrage of 64-66 that left him five strokes clear of Charley Hoffman?
Like Woods, Spieth spoke of maintaining his focus and the virtues of competitive blinders following his second round.
“I still need to not be focused on anybody else, no scoreboard watching, set a goal and understand that the course is going to be harder, and then just try to strike the ball the same way I have,” said Spieth, who has recorded 15 birdies and just a single bogey.
If two PGA Tour victories - most recently at last month’s Valspar Championship - haven’t exactly moved the public needle for Spieth, a record-setting performance at Augusta National has a tendency of focusing the spotlight.
But even after two historic days for Spieth, comparisons to Woods’ ’97 victory likely won’t sit well with golf fans, who have become weary of the media’s decade's-long search for the next American hope.
In a convoluted way, the Tiger Woods era has conditioned us to have lower expectations. The “next Tiger Woods” has come and gone with regularity, from Charles Howell III to Anthony Kim. Even Rory McIlroy, poised this week to complete the career Grand Slam with a trip to Butler Cabin on Sunday following a brilliant 2014, hasn’t matched Woods’ sustained greatness.
In fairness to those would-be major champions, comparisons to Woods circa 1997-2008 were always going to be wildly misguided, but in two starts at Augusta National Spieth appears to be something of a kindred spirit.
Even Woods acknowledged what Spieth has accomplished through two turns this week.
“The difference is that he's separated himself,” Woods said. “I didn't have that separation after two rounds. I believe I only had a three-shot lead at the time. So there's a big difference. He's put out a big enough gap between the rest of the pack.”
While Spieth’s game is fundamentally sound and widely considered without weakness, he doesn’t launch the golf ball like Bubba Watson. He doesn’t possess Phil Mickelson’s short game majesty. He doesn’t bury putts like Brad Faxon.
Yet the sum of his parts is an impressively complete package and he seems to distance himself from the crowd with an innate desire - call it an addiction - to win.
“He's got competitive fire. You can see it,” said Ben Crenshaw, who played a practice round with Spieth on Wednesday and has become something of a mentor to the fellow Texan.
“When I first met him, I tell you, I'll never forget it. I looked right at him and he looked at me and I thought I was looking at Wyatt Earp. He just had that look about him, just wonderful.”
Spieth is no robot.
In the age of the detached golfer, Spieth is not above the occasional flash of fury. While largely soft-spoken, his emotions are etched into his expressive face after each shot.
“Get lucky,” he commanded his tee shot at the 13th hole on Friday before adding, “don’t get unlucky, I guess.”
Other than an apparent habit of sending his golf ball mixed messages, his poise – if not his power – is eerily Tiger-like, at least this week.
And through 36 holes Spieth’s script is looking impressively familiar to what Woods accomplished in 1997 when he won by 12 strokes.
Spieth’s 14-under total is one stroke better than the opening 36-hole record set by Raymond Floyd in 1976 at the Masters, and those who were relegated to the “B” flight back in ’97 could sense the similarities on Friday afternoon.
“Well, he's obviously playing great golf,” said Ernie Els, who was tied for 10th after two rounds in ’97. “It's similar [to Woods’ romp in ’97]. I don't remember what the lead was, but it's similar.”
Make what you will of Spieth’s inexperience, but know that he has ranked among the top 5 after each of his six tournament rounds at Augusta National, which – like dog years – makes him something just shy of salty when it comes to local knowledge.
He’s also been here before, taking a share of the lead into last year’s final round before stumbling to a closing 72 and into a tie for second place - a painful lesson, but a lesson nonetheless.
“I learned the weekend of a major, those rounds can often seem like two rounds in kind of the mental stuff that's running through your head; the stress levels, and sometimes they are higher,” Spieth said. “The hardest thing to do is put aside wanting to win so bad.”
Comparisons to Woods have historically come up a club short, but following two days at Augusta National it’s impossible to shake the feeling that we’ve all seen this before.