Spieth's second Aussie win a far different triumph

Jordan Spieth


Admittedly, there are a few similarities between Jordan Spieth's bookend wins at the Australian Open.

For the second time in the last three years, Spieth flew halfway around the world and put together a stirring rally to capture one of the biggest events in Oz. They were wins that equally thrilled the crowds, first at the Australian Golf Club and then at Royal Sydney, and Spieth offered similar comments after each win.

But rest assured, this victory is far different than that of 2014, just as Spieth is in a far different place in his career than he was two years ago.

It may seem hard to believe, but Spieth was outside the top 10 in the world rankings and looking for a spark when he shot a course-record 63 to win this event for the first time. He was a player full of promise but in need of production, as his lone professional win to date had come more than a year prior.

The win seemed like a significant development at the time, and its significance only grew in hindsight when he won the Hero World Challenge the next week and paved his way toward a record-breaking 2015 campaign.

This time around, the drought – if that term can even be applied – stretched back only to the Dean & DeLuca Invitational in May. More than performance, Spieth's 2016 season has been about perception.

He entered the year with impossibly high expectations, and he only served to raise the bar with his eight-shot romp at Kapalua in January. Spieth's season was irreparably altered on the 12th tee at Augusta National, and historically it will be remembered as a year of what might have been.

But beyond the broad strokes, Spieth has had a strong season even though he was passed in the world rankings by the likes of Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson. Spieth did win twice, now three times, and he played a lead role in steering the U.S. to its first Ryder Cup triumph in eight years.

Long considered one of the best putters in the world, Spieth's putting stats were actually better on the PGA Tour in 2016 than during his unprecedented 2015 season. It was a skill he once again put on display Sunday in Sydney, holing a string of lengthy putts to first nab a spot in a three-man playoff, then quickly dispatch of Cameron Smith and Ashley Hall with an overtime birdie.

"The way we played the playoff, I think is going to do wonders for me," Spieth told reporters. "To hit those two shots in there, right where I wanted to hit them, and then to make the putt is really big going forward."

But Spieth's most recent win won't act like a springboard as it did in 2014 because, quite simply, Spieth isn't currently in need of one.

Recency bias strikes us all, and it causes us to lend more credence to the achievements of guys like Stenson, Johnson and McIlroy who dazzled this summer. In an age of Big (Number), it seems there can only be a finite number of seats at the table at any given time.

But as Spieth showed in Australia, he remains just as capable of winning a big tournament as ever. What's more, he proved he can do so without firing on all cylinders, as his win following a six-week break from competition in some ways mirrored his victory at Colonial when he his stellar short game bailed out a number of errant approaches.

Spieth's win also displayed the killer instinct so often seen in truly elite players. For the first 68 holes of the tournament he seemed out of the mix, just on the fringe of contention. Then one putt fell, and then another, and he seemingly had the trophy in hand before the rest of the field even knew what had happened.

Where Spieth goes from here remains to be seen. He could produce another victory in the Bahamas, mirroring his 2014 double, to set the stage for a mouth-watering 2017 featuring so many of the game's best with ample momentum.

But even if he doesn't play well at Albany, Spieth's season must be deemed a success, with worldwide victories highlighting the beginning, middle and end. His Masters meltdown kept it from being great, but it's good nonetheless.

In 2014, a trip to Oz proved to be a watershed. This time around, it's simply a reminder that Spieth isn't back – he just never left.