AUGUSTA, Ga. – Jordan Spieth’s caddie delivered just the right words with his player stinging from a rough start Friday at the Masters.
Michael Greller has been on the bag for all of Spieth’s wild highs and lows here.
He was at Spieth’s side in that breakthrough victory in 2015, and in a crushing defeat a year later.
So when Spieth double-bogeyed the first hole Friday to immediately give away the two-shot lead he built in the first round, and then bogeyed the second, Greller knew what to say.
“He was really good at saying, ‘Man, you always take punches out here and come back stronger,’” Spieth said. “That's kind of what he was saying.”
Spieth took a flurry of punches Friday before punching back, but he did fight to keep his championship hopes alive.
On a day when so many were struggling, Spieth scrapped and clawed to stay on the leaderboard. After failing to get up and down at the seventh hole, falling to 4 over on the day, there was a dose of encouragement going to the eighth tee. The leaderboard there showed Spieth was just one shot off the lead.
Nobody was running away, with the course so firm and fast, and with swirling, gusting winds challenging everyone.
“I'm still in this golf tournament,” Spieth said at day’s end.
Spieth didn’t make his first birdie Friday until the 13th hole. He two-putted from 50 feet. He added one more birdie at the 15th, two-putting from 70 feet.
When Spieth signed for a 2-over-par 74, he was just one shot off the lead.
“With the way the back nine was playing today, the wheels could have come off,” Spieth said.
There were a lot of important pars strung around his two birdies on the back nine. Just as importantly, there no more bogeys added to his card.
“I made some nice par saves and was able to grind out some phenomenal second‑shot iron shots and good two‑putt birdies,” Spieth said.
At just 24, Spieth has a lot of memories to draw upon at Augusta National. Even the bad ones seem to matter to him. He brought up his collapse in ’16, when he hit two balls in the water at the 12th and made quadruple-bogey 7 to blow a chance to win back-to-back Masters. He said rebounding from that to tie for second mattered.
Spieth was asked if skill or mental fiber was more responsible for his rebound on Thursday.
“I'm not going to downgrade my skill level, but I'm also not going to downgrade my ability to take punches and fight back on this course,” he said.
Spieth made double at the first after blowing his drive right and into the trees. He barely punched his way back into the clear and then hit a heavy wedge that spun back to the front of the green. He three-putted from there.
At the second, Spieth hooked his tee shot left along the tree line, then from an awkward stance aside a tree, he hooked a 4-iron back along the tree line, leaving him a less than ideal approach. He three-putted that green, too.
“So, what's the first couple holes on a Friday start mean?” Spieth said. “It doesn't really mean much to me. It means, 'Let's figure out what was wrong and fix it,’ but it's not going to affect the outcome of this tournament, off of those two holes. I'm still in a great position.”
Spieth knew tough conditions made it difficult for anybody to pull away.
“I felt like I hit some really good shots on a lot of holes, and just got kind of gusted by an opposite wind, or were one or two yards away from being phenomenal,” Spieth said. “Therefore, I didn't have very many really good birdie looks, less than a half dozen.”
Spieth may need a fighter’s mentality again Saturday with rain and winds forecast to make for a tough day.