PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Fearless Jordan Spieth meets the most fearsome Sunday in golf.
This ought to be fun.
Spieth, competing in his first Players Championship, begins the final round tied for the lead with Martin Kaymer. A month after losing a final-round duel to Bubba Watson at the Masters, Spieth is back in the mix in another elite event.
“Augusta left me feeling a little hungry for it again,” Spieth said.
Just 20, Spieth will be looking to become the youngest winner in the 41-year history of The Players Championship. He’ll be looking to become just the fourth player to win the PGA Tour’s flagship event in his first try, thrusting him into a small club that includes Jack Nicklaus, who won the inaugural championship in 1974.
How fearless is Spieth? He hasn’t made a bogey over his first 54 holes in this event. He’s the only player in the field who hasn’t made a bogey this week. In fact, he’s the only player besides Greg Norman in 1994 who has played the first 54 holes of this championship without a bogey.
That’s absurd. Rory McIlroy has made 10 bogeys and two double bogeys this week.
“I don’t think I’ve ever really done that in a tournament, even going back to junior days,” Spieth said.
Spieth’s caddie loves the fearlessness in his player.
“When Jordan comes to a golf course, he’s not intimidated,” Michael Greller said after the first round.
This might be the matchup of the year.
No, not Spieth vs. Kaymer, though nobody should be dismissing Kaymer, not as solidly as he’s striking the ball.
It’s the kid who doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything against the scariest Sunday in golf.
That’s the compelling matchup, because make no mistake, that’s what The Players Championship is for Sunday contenders. It’s the most frightening championship to close out because there is so much potential calamity awaiting mistakes.
You get it going wrong under final-round pressure at the TPC Stadium Course, and a loss turns into a collapse quicker than anywhere else.
Pete Dye designed a mausoleum of misery for contenders who become pretenders.
Nobody exposes fear and swing flaws more than Dye does on a Sunday here.
Just ask Sergio Garcia. He was tied for the lead with Tiger Woods stepping to the 17th tee on Sunday last year and dumped two balls in the water and made quadruple-bogey 7. He followed that with a double bogey at the 18th.
Or Alex Cejka. He opened the final round with a five-shot lead in 2009 and closed with a 79, finishing eight shots behind the winner, Henrik Stenson.
Or Kenny Perry. He started Sunday a shot behind Paul Goydos in the final pairing in ’08 and shot 81, with Garcia winning.
Or Sean O’Hair. He led by a shot going into the final round in ’07 and knocked two balls in the water at the 17th, making a quadruple-bogey with Phil Mickelson winning.
Or Len Mattiace. He was one shot behind Justin Leonard stepping to the 17th tee in the final round in ’98 and dumped two shots in the water, making quintuple-bogey 8.
There’s more, but you’ve got the idea.
This isn’t just the test for Spieth. It’s the test for Kaymer. It’s the test for every player with a chance on Sunday.
With Tiger Woods out with an injury, golf’s been waiting all season for a star to break out. If Spieth makes The Players Championship his second PGA Tour title, this just might feel like the official arrival of the next American star.
The way Spieth closed out Saturday should give him a load of confidence come Sunday.
Spieth showed he can’t just get it up and down from anywhere on the planet. He can get it up and down from hell, because that what Dye creates here, so many hellish lies. Spieth leads the field in scrambling. He’s 16 for 16 getting up and down to save par this week.
Kaymer held off Spieth most of Saturday, until making bogey at the 18th, where Spieth saved yet another par to create a 54-hole tie for the lead.
“It’s very tough to beat those guys that don’t make mistakes,” Kaymer said.
Spieth missed four of the last six greens Saturday without tainting his scorecard.
“It was really ugly coming in, but somehow I did it,” Spieth said.
At the 16th, Spieth looked like he might finally make his first bogey, but he got up and down from behind the green, holing a 5-footer for par. At the 18th, after hitting his drive in the woods, he punched out, leaving himself 56 yards to get up and down for par. He did it, coolly holing a 12-footer from the fringe for par.
“I’m very excited,” Spieth said. “This is the position I wanted to get into in another big event.”