Spieth becoming a commanding presence


Jordan Spieth isn’t just learning how to handle the pressure that can suffocate chances at the end of tournaments.

He isn’t just learning how to close and how to win.

He’s learning how to command a stage.

Watching Spieth win the Valspar Championship Sunday, with his confident stride, his certainty of gesture, his fist pumps, and even watching the way he corralled and wrestled disappointment over mistakes, that was more than fun to watch. It was fun to listen to as he made his way around Innisbrook.

There was entertainment value listening to Spieth think out loud the way he likes to do under pressure. The way this young Texan talks to his golf ball, the way he chastises himself for bad shots, there can be danger in that with live microphones catching just about everything nowadays, but this observer didn’t detect anything objectionable. Just the opposite. There was almost something Palmer-esque in the way Spieth drew us out there on to the stage with him.

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Yes, the shot making Sunday made Spieth’s victory compelling, with Patrick Reed and Sean O’Hair adding to the drama with their own clutch plays. There was short-game wizardry of the highest order, up and downs that would have impressed Seve Ballesteros. The action was captivating, but there was more than a good script holding our attention.

Spieth was a commanding presence, and that bodes well for the entertainment value the game loses without Tiger Woods on stage. Reed was a commanding presence, too. Though he’s being painted as more anti-hero than he would like, Reed is good theater. And O’Hair was more than a character actor along for the ride. He offered the possibility of delivering us a feel-good comeback story.

With his victory Sunday, Spieth joined Woods, Sergio Garcia and Robert Gamez as the only players since 1940 to win two PGA Tour titles before turning 22. With Rory McIlroy, 25, trying to win the career Grand Slam at the Masters next month, there’s more than a load of young talent claiming the game’s big stages as their own. There are stars aplenty with stage presence stepping up.

With the quirky Bubba Watson at 36 looking to win his third green jacket in four years, the Masters offers plenty of compelling theater. At this point, Woods’ return to Augusta National would be a bonus, maybe just a sideshow if he turns up without his short game.

Spieth may have just two PGA Tour victories today, but the way he challenged Watson at the Masters last year, taking the lead on the front nine of the final round, he will tee it up on that stage as one of the leading men.

Augusta National is the ultimate stage in golf, and it looms as the ultimate test of what kind of stage presence Spieth can really command.