Emphasis on putting has Spieth 18 holes from win


WINDERMERE, Fla. – There was some poetic symmetry to Jordan Spieth’s third-round 63 on Saturday which won’t show up on any leaderboard. It actually began with the conclusion of his second round in glistening sunlight shining down upon the 18th green at Isleworth Golf & Country Club.

This was where, one day earlier, Spieth elected to stop playing rather than finish up in pitch-black darkness, the result of a mid-afternoon rain delay. His ball resting not far from the putting surface, he watched playing partner Zach Johnson complete his round, then walked off, knowing he’d be able to see better when he returned.

That return came at 10:15 a.m. and, though he didn’t know it when he’d stopped playing Friday afternoon, he had company. Steve Stricker had similarly decided to continue in the morning and so the two players finished up together.

Spieth chipped it close and made his par attempt. Stricker had a 50-foot birdie putt that he ran past the hole, then missed the par putt, too.

Not only did Spieth keep his eyes glued to Stricker’s putt, he kept it in his memory bank. Six hours later his ball was where the hole had been in the morning and the hole was where his playing partner’s ball had been. Spieth remembered the break, realized the speed and rolled in a 50-footer of his own to claim a seven-stroke lead entering the final round of the Hero World Challenge.

“I got a little feel of the speed maybe off seeing his this morning, which could have been a good break for me,” he explained. “It was actually very, very straight. Just played it pretty much in the center of the hole, maybe just outside of the right side of hole, and tried to get the right speed. I knew when it was about four feet to go that it was going to take a little left break. Put my putter up, which normally means it'll find a way to lip out, but that one fell in.”

Hero World Challenge: Articles, videos and photos

Of course, it’s difficult to consider any stroke a crucial one when so many rest between the guy in first place and everybody else.

That closing birdie was simply the cherry on top of a dominant performance, one of nine birdies on the day without a single blemish.

The end result is that the 21-year-old Texan is now in line for his third career professional victory and second in as many weeks, while the rest of the 18-man field is ready to wave the white flag.

“I don't think anybody is going to catch him tomorrow unless he's having a really bad day,” lamented Henrik Stenson, who is tied for second place. “Seems to be a one‑horse race.”

If Spieth can trace his final-hole birdie bomb to watching Stricker earlier in the day, he can trace his overall improved performance on the greens to a greater emphasis on his practice regimen prior to last week’s Australian Open title.

Unhappy with his putting at the Dunlop Phoenix one week earlier, Spieth rolled “hundreds” of putts on Tuesday and Wednesday under the watchful eye of instructor Cameron McCormick.

“He found a little something that I probably wouldn't have been able to find,” said Spieth, who has rolled in 23 birdie putts through 54 holes this week. “I've been working on it here, just tried to do that same feeling, same drills that Cameron and I worked on Tuesday and Wednesday in Australia. Yeah, I would say that we worked quite a bit more than normal last week.”

Or as his caddie, Michael Greller, put it: “Even my feet were hurting and I was just standing there.”

All of that work paid off with the win last week and is paying off again this week, as Spieth is on the verge of a rare back-to-back: Two wins on two different continents in two different hemispheres.

His continued sublime play this week can be attributed to that extra putting practice or getting enough sleep to counteract any jetlag or being comfortable on an Isleworth course where he once also lapped the field in college. Really, it’s a combination of each, but that underscores the real story here, the one major reason why Spieth is cruising past a field that contains only the best of the best in the world.

He’s really, really good. Let’s wait one more day to sound the sirens of what promises to be a very successful 2015 campaign. After all, it’s not over yet, but as one of Spieth’s closest competitors said “it’s a one-horse race” – and the guy leading is a thoroughbred.