ATLANTA – It’s only fitting that Jordan Spieth would end his historic season just down Interstate-20 from where it essentially all began in April.
The 22-year-old king of the golf world went 2-for-2 in Georgia this season with his victory on Sunday at East Lake, a four-stroke statement that lacked the style points of his historic victory in April at Augusta National but provided an apropos exclamation point to what was already a breakout season.
As he has all year, Spieth made it look much easier than it actually was, grinding out a 1-under 69 to become the youngest FedEx Cup champion and the first Tour player to reach $12 million in earnings in a single season, lapping the old mark by more than $1 million.
“[Caddie Michael Greller] told me when we were going to the 18th tee box, ‘You did this with your head this week,’” said Spieth, who is now 4-for-8 in converting 54-hole leads. “He knew that I wasn’t comfortable over the ball, but we kept our head in it.”
In completing the Georgia Slam, Spieth became the first player to win the Masters and Tour Championship in the same season. He also put a neat bow on what could have been a muddy ending both on and off a soggy East Lake layout.
Heading into the finale the background noise had reached a crescendo, with players split in a Player of the Year vote that until five weeks ago had been a foregone conclusion.
But then Jason Day won The Barclays and the BMW Championship to add to his PGA Championship title, and while Spieth’s dominance wasn’t diminished the electorate was certainly divided.
On Saturday, however, Spieth did what Spieth has done all season, plod his way around a demanding golf course and convert crucial putts, like his 20-footer at the 54th hole to move one stroke clear of Henrik Stenson.
As expected, Sunday’s finale quickly turned into a two-man race for the Tour Championship hardware and the FedEx Cup riches with Spieth and Stenson keeping the field at bay with steady if not stellar play early.
After making just two bogeys in his first 54 holes, the Teflon talent rattled off back-to-back miscues in less than 15 minutes on Nos. 5 and 6, but Spieth rebounded with closing birdies at Nos. 8 and 9 to grab a two-shot lead in what appeared to be a nine-hole match for all the millions.
But the two-man race quickly became a coronation.
After trading birdies with Stenson at the 11th, Spieth slowly pulled away and played his final six holes in straight pars that were anything but routine.
After rolling in a 46-footer for birdie at the 11th, Spieth converted par putts from 9 feet after making a mess of the par-5 15th hole, 8 feet after finding a greenside bunker at No. 16 and 8 feet after being overly aggressive with his birdie attempt at the last. But by then the big check was already in the mail.
“Jordan was putting unbelievably well,” said Stenson, who closed with a 72 after making a double-bogey 6 at the 16th hole to tie for second. “Whenever he had to make a putt, he did it. He’s hard to beat on the greens, we know that. I just couldn’t keep pace with him today.”
Spieth finished third in total putts for the week and first in putts-made distance, averaging just under 8 feet per putt. But that’s nothing new for a player who has seemed to make every clutch putt he’s faced this season in Georgia and beyond.
While critics seem to focus on what Spieth can’t do, most notably a driver that left him ranked in the middle of the Tour pack (he finished the year 78th out of 184 players in driving distance), his clutch putting and a clarity of thought that transcends his 22 years separated him in 2014-15.
Earlier in the week Jason Day joked that if Spieth and McIlroy had a baby, he would be it. After the way he turned the playoffs into a chess match Heir Jordan had the look of a Tiger Woods-Bobby Fischer hybrid.
With his spot inside the top five on the FedEx Cup points list locked up through to the Tour Championship, Spieth organized his priorities accordingly, conserving energy until he arrived at East Lake even if that meant relatively pedestrian performances at the first three postseason stops.
“Like I said before New York, everything now is to prepare to peak in Atlanta,” Spieth said. “Approach Atlanta like a major championship. The whole year it's been about the major championships, and I consider this to be the fifth one at the end.”
After missing back-to-back cuts to begin the playoffs at The Barclays and Deutsche Bank Championship for the first time in his Tour career, Spieth seemed to get back to work last week with a tie for 13th at the BMW Championship that set the stage for East Lake.
The payoff for Spieth was an astronomical payday. Beyond his $12 million in earnings he also collected the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus. That’s $22 million in 25 starts, or $880,000 per event.
But it was the victory, his fifth this season, that finally quieted the Player of the Year debate and propelled him back to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking that meant the most to Spieth.
As he made his way down the hill to the 18th green on Sunday, his tee shot safely on the green and his status as the game’s alpha male soundly reestablished, it was a moment Greller wanted to savor.
“I said, ‘Hey, you’re No. 1 in the world again.’ He said, ‘That’s why you keep your self belief,’” Greller said. “You hear all the noise. That’s why you block that out and believe in yourself. You’re trying to peak this week and that’s what he did.”
It was a perfect ending to what was a nearly perfect year that began and fittingly ended at a pair of Georgia gems.