Punch Shot: Biggest similarity between Tiger's and Spieth's games?


Jordan Spieth has recently drawn comparisons to Tiger Woods, which even Tiger's old swing coach, Butch Harmon, agrees are fair to make. What part of Spieth's game is most similar to Tiger's when he was at his best? Our writers weigh in:


It’s hard to quantify, but Jordan Spieth shares with Tiger Woods a rare ability to rise to the occasion.

It’s been that way for as long as I’ve covered Spieth. 

In 2011, he had one final chance to join Woods as the only players to win multiple U.S. Junior titles. He won the championship match, 6 and 5. The following spring, during the NCAA finals at Riviera, the Texas freshman played Alabama’s Justin Thomas in a battle of Player of the Year contenders. All square on the 15th hole, Spieth holed a long approach shot (shocker) and won the match, helping lift the Longhorns to the team championship.

That was only the start. 

To win his first PGA Tour title, at the 2013 John Deere Classic, he holed a bunker shot on the last hole to force a playoff. To win his first major, at the 2015 Masters, he got up-and-down from an impossible spot long and right of the 18th green to preserve his four-shot cushion heading into the final day. To become the youngest player since Gene Sarazen in 1922 to win back-to-back majors, Spieth sank a slippery putt on 16 and smoked a 3-wood to 15 feet on the 72nd hole at Chambers Bay. To win the Tour Championship and become golf’s first $22 million man, Spieth curled in a 45-footer on the 11th hole for the final dagger.

Woods was the master at this, seemingly willing every important putt into the cup for a dozen years. In his short career, Spieth has demonstrated the same uncanny ability to summon the goods at the best possible time, when the competition is closing in, when the pressure is at its most intense. 


Jordan Spieth won for the sixth time in 10 months on Sunday at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, lapping the field in Maui by eight strokes and sparking comparisons to Tiger Woods at the same point in his career.

Although Spieth doesn’t overpower golf courses like Woods did at this point in their careers, his putting, particularly in pressure situations, is the most obvious similarity.

Butch Harmon, who was Woods’ swing coach from 1996 to August 2002, said he sees much of the same composure in Spieth that was such a big part of Tiger’s persona during those early years.

“I never thought I’d see anyone who can make as many pressure putts as Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods did,” Harmon said. “But Jordan Spieth is definitely right there. Jordan makes more long putts then anyone we’ve seen in a long time with the exception of Arnold Palmer.”

Spieth is second on the PGA Tour in strokes gained-putting, but specifically distinguishes himself from the field, like Woods, on mid-range putts at key moments.

For the week at the Tournament of Champions he made 368 feet of putts, including bombs of 46 feet (No. 2 on Saturday), 33 feet (the second on Thursday) and 35 feet (No. 2 on Sunday).


We do Jordan Spieth no favors comparing him with Tiger Woods, but it’s unavoidable.

Spieth knows that, and he gives the best possible answer when asked, saying it’s premature to compare but he’s flattered because it’s his goal to move into the company of greatness.

Tiger knows the impossible standard he set, because he is compared with himself all the time now. He was so good, there’s a sense of doom trying to measure up, even for him now. But it won’t stop us. It’s human nature to want to compare excellence, whether it’s the best performance we’ve seen in a decade or the best steak we’ve ever eaten. It’s the way we’re wired.

How does Spieth most compare to Woods? It’s the putting. We all see that. Spieth has a gift on the greens. We talk about how Woods could dominate with power in his youth, but he demoralized players with his putter, with all the great putts he drained. Spieth can do that. Of course, Spieth will have to keep doing that before it’s really fair to compare him with Woods and Jack Nicklaus as the greatest clutch putters of all time. In the meantime, we’ll be unable to resist forcing the comparisons. 


The most striking similarity between Spieth and Woods is an innate understanding of timing. It’s knowing just when to go in for the kill, just when his closest pursuer might be reeling and can be knocked flat with a single swipe. It’s executing a risky approach shot, or converting an improbable up-and-down, or burying an 8-footer for par like it was a tap-in.

Spieth has had a few wobbles that we didn’t see from an early Woods – specifically, the 17th holes at both of the Opens last year. But overall his ability to seize the moment, especially when leading, is reminiscent of Woods. We see it when he is battling down the stretch or in a playoff, and it is equally evident at events like Kapalua, where he slowly grew his lead from three shots to five, and ultimately eight.

It’s shots like his approach to the 18th hole on Saturday, a low, running 3-iron that nearly rolled in for an albatross before setting up a closing eagle. It was Spieth telling the rest of the field, quite simply, that this was his tournament and no one else was permitted within arm’s length of the trophy.

We’ve seen similar shots recently from guys like Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, but the frequency with which Spieth hits the perfect shot at the perfect time draws comparisons to the player who did it better than anyone in recent memory.