SAN DIEGO – Jordan Spieth sighed deeply before stepping onto the podium Sunday at Torrey Pines.
His face was smudged with sunscreen.
His hands were stuffed in his pockets.
His mind appeared in overdrive.
That flashy second round with the world No. 1? Oh, by now, it seemed but a distant memory. Instead, what Spieth will take away from his week here are the bad shots, the driver woes, the cracks in his mental game, the overwhelmingly lost feeling.
Up on that podium Spieth talked not about his fast start but his sluggish finish. He revealed that he felt “very comfortable” all weekend. That he “didn’t feel nervous at all.” That there was “no tension.” That, in the end, he “just didn’t have my stuff.”
Staked to his first outright 36-hole lead on the PGA Tour, the 20-year-old wunderkind shot 75-75 on the weekend at the Farmers Insurance Open. No one in the top 45 had a worse final round than Spieth. Just like that, he sank to joint 19th.
There is a rush to anoint the kid as the next superstar, and there remains plenty of evidence that he’ll reach headliner status soon, if he hasn’t already.
After all, Spieth has been a winner at every level, from the peewee ranks (multiple U.S. Junior titles) to the college campus (NCAA champion in lone full season at Texas) to the pros (John Deere Classic). Here at Torrey Pines, he was vying to become the youngest two-time PGA Tour winner since 1932.
But such hastiness tends to obscure the fact that he’s still just 20 – with a lifetime full of successes and disappointments ahead. He’s still learning how to win and, more often than not, lose, since this was the 12th time in the past 10 months that he had started a weekend round inside the top 10.
On Friday, Woods, who knows a bit about outsized expectations as a young star, remarked that one of the reasons that Spieth is such a great putter is that he rolls the ball with reckless abandon. His mind wasn’t cluttered with old feelings and bad thoughts.
“You haven’t experienced enough yet, you know?” Woods said.
Twenty-seven starts into his PGA Tour career, this one likely the most disappointing, Spieth continues to supply the memory bank.
This week, he played the first two rounds alongside FedEx Cup leader Jimmy Walker and Woods – the first time he’s played with the 14-time major champion in competition. Afterward, Spieth learned that he wasn’t “intimidated by any means,” and he ended up dusting his childhood idol by eight shots.
“It’s not something he’s going to dwell on,” his caddie, Michael Greller, said after that round. “He’s going to play with Tiger for a long time, hopefully.”
That confidence waned over the weekend, though, when Spieth began to get out of sync with his driver. (It didn’t help, of course, that he “tweaked” his ankle at some point during Friday’s round, making it difficult to properly load onto his right side.)
This weekend, on the more punishing South Course – which featured long, gnarly rough a few feet off the fairway – Spieth hit just 12 of 28 fairways, leading to only 10 greens hit each of the last two days.
“When I’m struggling with my driver, mentally, it’s very difficult for me to stay neutral and refocus and finish off a good round,” he said. “It’s something I really need to work on.
“It’s a detriment to my success – learning how to get over it and find a go-to shot. Typically, I can, and this is really the first event where I just had no idea where the ball was going to go."
Look at the 18th hole, he said. Spieth pulled an 8-iron for a lay-up, with a 30-yard-wide landing area, and missed the fairway by 10 yards. “It was a borderline shank,” he said, shaking his head.
The self-critique continued on the podium when he lamented letting “stuff get to my head too easily.”
After Spieth hit his approach through the back on the par-5 sixth, an unwitting photographer stumbled around the green and stepped on his ball, sinking it deep into the grass.
Spieth was alerted of the incident by a group of spectators. “OK, OK,” he told them, clearly perturbed. “Just tell the rules official that when he gets here.”
Spieth was awarded a free drop, but that ball, too, settled down in the thick stuff. He rolled his eyes. After a nice pitch to 5 feet, he tugged the putt and settled for par.
Stewing, he chomped on his gum and fidgeted with the bottom button on his shirt. In the background a few clever fans yelled, “Step on it!” and “Fluffy!”, like the lie in the rough that he previously had enjoyed.
“When that putt missed, it got in my head,” said Spieth, who went on to bogey the next hole (No. 7) and squander birdie opportunities on the upcoming par 5s. He finished at 4-under 284, five shots behind winner Scott Stallings. “I’ll learn from that just to brush it off. There’s nothing I could do about it; I couldn’t prevent it.
“So, all in all, I just really wasn’t mentally ready to win this week.”
And with that, Spieth stepped off the podium and headed toward a line of spectators, Sharpie in hand. Up next is a week of physical therapy and practice and reflection, this humbling weekend – not the 63 with Tiger – weighing heavy on his mind.