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Spieth not second-guessing decision to play Deere

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Jordan Spieth has already landed two big prizes this season. He reeled in a third (and a fourth) last month in the Caribbean, where he was vacationing with friends following his stirring victory at the U.S. Open.

One afternoon in the Bahamas, Spieth and his buddies were out on a boat snorkeling when they threw in a few lines, just to see if they could catch anything. He wound up in a two-and-a-half-hour game of tug-of-war with a 12-foot-long, 300-pound black tip shark that had eaten the tuna he’d hooked. A 2-for-1 deal. 

“I had to take a break,” Spieth told reporters Tuesday. “My arm couldn’t move anymore.”

His pals offered to take over for a while, but Spieth, ever the competitor, didn’t dare lose his catch.

“I’m like, ‘You bet your ass you’re not taking over,’” he said, laughing. “’This is my fish. There’s no way you’re stepping on this. You’re going to lose it.’”

His arm was sore a few days after the trip but is fine now.

Good thing, because after the unfortunate injury news surrounding world No. 1 Rory McIlroy, the sport can’t afford another star on the disabled list – especially one with as much on the line as Spieth, who is trying to join Ben Hogan as the only players to win the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open in the same season.

But how Spieth has prepared for that shot at history has come under scrutiny.

Some suggested that he should have headed over early and logged as many practice rounds as he could at St. Andrews, a course he has played only once, while on his way to the 2011 Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen.

Others argued that he should have teed it up at the Scottish Open, because then he would have gotten adjusted not only to the five-hour time change but also the weather, conditions and links golf.

Instead, Spieth stayed true to the John Deere Classic, the down-home Tour stop in Silvis, Ill., that features one of the smallest purses on the calendar but is a place that holds special meaning to him. The tournament first offered him a sponsor exemption the summer after his freshman year at Texas, a crucial time when he was deciding whether to make the jump to the pros. A year later, he holed a bunker shot on the 72nd hole and won the first of what is now four Tour titles.

“It never really crossed my mind to drop out,” he said.

Assuming Spieth makes the cut this week, he will board the Sunday-night charter that the Deere provides for players who are also in the Open. That leaves him only two-and-a-half days to prepare for the most pressure-packed tournament of his life.  

Yet to hear Spieth on Tuesday, his decision to play the Deere isn’t because of nostalgia, or simply because he made a commitment months before he won two majors. He’s playing the Deere because he believes it gives him the best chance to be successful in the year’s third major.

And doesn’t Spieth know his game best?

“I think this is good preparation for me to get good feels, to get in contention, and to find out what’s on and what’s off when I’m in contention,” he said. “I’m here because I believe I can win this week. I believe that it’s advantageous for me to try and win this week and to continue the momentum into the Open Championship.”

That formula seemed to work during the first two majors of the year.

He prepared for the Masters by finishing second in San Antonio and losing in a playoff in Houston.

He prepared for the U.S. Open by tying for third at the Memorial on the strength of a closing 65.

Now, he is preparing for the third leg of the Grand Slam at a place that has produced at least a 19-under-par winning score every year since 2009.

Besides, it’s a familiar routine. After his win in ’13, he flew across the pond for the Muirfield Open. Playing his fourth tournament in a row, he ran out of gas after an opening 69 and faded to a top-45 finish. Last year, he didn’t have his best stuff and still recorded a T-7 at the Deere, but then continued his mid-season swoon with a pedestrian showing at Hoylake.

“I just want to get in contention here,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where it is. I will certainly have enough energy. I will certainly have enough rest, and I will be as prepared as I can be by the time I tee it up at St. Andrews.” 

Spieth’s biggest challenge the past few weeks has been blocking out all of the “noise.” He can’t avoid the Grand Slam talk, but he’s trying his best to minimize it, whether that’s staying off of his phone or changing the channel when the topic comes up.  

“I’m ready to just get inside the ropes and start playing,” he said.

After his recent fishing adventure, a fifth big prize awaits.