FORT WORTH, Texas – It’s a scenario that tournament director Michael Tothe probably couldn’t have drawn up any better.
On one side of Sunday’s final pairing at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational will be Jordan Spieth: major champion and Texas legend in the making, eyeing his first professional win in his home state.
On the other side of the tee will be the only man in this week’s field who might be able to rival his crowd support.
After the 18th hole extracted its pound of flesh from the leaders, Ryan Palmer was left with a spot alongside Spieth in the final-round spotlight. It’s an opportunity that has Palmer, a Colonial Country Club member traveling around the course this week with his own personal cheering section, champing at the bit.
“That was what I wanted,” Palmer said. “I wanted to be with him in the final group on my home course in front of my family and friends and in front of the members of Colonial. That’s what I wanted, and it worked out, so I’m very excited.”
Palmer has finished T-5 here two times in the last four years, but he has never won a tournament on the course he holds dear and where his caddie, James Edmonson, is both a member and former club champion.
To finally win be no small feat, as Palmer and Webb Simpson both trail Spieth by one shot entering the final round.
After lurking through the first 36 holes, Spieth put together arguably his most complete round since the Masters, a 5-under 65 where he alternately dazzled with accurate approaches and timely short-game saves. Spieth’s bogey on No. 18 was his lone dropped shot of the day, ending a streak of 28 straight bogey-free holes, and it trimmed his overnight lead in half.
Spieth enters with a chance to win in front of partisan crowds for the second straight week. While he trailed Brooks Koepka and seemed to be fighting his swing at the AT&T Byron Nelson, Spieth appears in control this week at Colonial and his comments reflect that confidence.
“I’ll be disappointed if I don’t win tomorrow,” Spieth said. “Being in this position two weeks in a row, last Sunday was a tough day for me given the importance of the Byron Nelson to me personally.”
While Spieth’s iron play wasn’t quite as crisp as it was the previous two rounds, he managed saves when required that were reminiscent of the shots he holed with regularity last year: a 23-foot par save on No. 5, a delicate up-and-down from behind the green on No. 10 and a chip-in birdie on No. 11.
“My scrambling was kind of the key to the day today,” Spieth said.
Gone are the frustrated laments of TPC Sawgrass and TPC Four Seasons. In their stead stands a man eager to win an event in his backyard, eager to keep pace with recent wins from Jason Day and Rory McIlroy – and eager to put to bed any notion that the scars from Augusta National still linger.
“I feel really good about my game. All parts of it,” he said. “I’m going to need to stick to the basics, keep my posture, very disciplined in my setup alignment and posture and make confident swings, knowing that we have hit great shots all week. And hopefully the putter stays hot as well. But yeah, I’m confident about where everything’s at.”
Spieth and Palmer both spoke after the round about their comfort with one another, and the fun element that it will bring to Sunday’s final pairing. The two often play foursome games together with their respective caddies, and their presence together could draw a line in the sand among the crowd, forced to choose between the Dallas native and Fort Worth’s favorite son.
For Palmer, it’s a chance to face one of the game’s best on a course he knows like no other, as he looks to win on Tour for the first time since 2010. But it’s also an opportunity to honor the memory of his father, Butch, who was a regular at this event before passing away in a car accident last August.
“He’s been there every step – in the mornings, on the way here. This is his favorite golf tournament,” Palmer said. “He’ll be with me tomorrow for sure, and of course he’ll creep into my mind.”
While Spieth insists that anyone as far as six shots back could win on a course as unpredictable as Colonial, that statement won’t make it any easier for fans to snag a spot along the rope line to watch the marquee pairing in the final round, where two of the tournament’s biggest draws will battle.
“You ask anybody, when you get the crowd going and the ball gets rolling, that’s what you live to do,” Palmer said. “That’s why we work hard to get in those moments and get the crowd ramped up like that. So it’s going to be a fun one tomorrow.”