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Spieth appears to be peaking at right time

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HUMBLE, Texas – No, your computer screen isn’t frozen on last month’s leaderboard. That mobile app you use doesn’t need updating.

That’s Jordan Spieth’s name on the leaderboard. Just like last week, and the time before.

Get used to it.

With the countdown to the Masters measured in days, Spieth is rounding into form at just the right time. He emerged from a crowded leaderboard with a 5-under 67 in the third round of the Shell Houston Open and leads by one.

It continues a torrid stretch of golf for Spieth over the last month, one that began with his win in Tampa and included a runner-up finish last week in San Antonio.

Just don’t call it a run.

“Honestly, ideally I don’t look at this as a run,” Spieth said. “I look at this as this is the way I should be playing. If I look at this as a run, it means the normal me is something lesser than I am right now. I can’t think of myself that way.”

Part of that answer is the unabashed confidence of a 21-year-old firing on all cylinders, but the vast majority was spoken with a straight face. Spieth is the highest-ranked player in the field and appears poised to rise even higher before heading to Augusta National. While his feats may continue to impress fans and media alike, for Spieth it’s business as usual.

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Play with the belief that you’re the best player in the field, and the results will emulate the mindset. Wash, rinse, repeat.

“Ultimately in the grand scheme of things, in the big picture, my goal is to someday become the best player,” Spieth said. “Obviously I have a really good opportunity to improve on where I’m at tomorrow. That’s the game plan.”

Things have been going pretty much according to plan for Spieth for quite some time, but a win Sunday would be the fourth in his last 10 worldwide starts, ratcheting expectations up another notch heading into the Masters.

Granted, this is hardly a fait accompli. The tournament appeared to be Phil Mickelson’s to lose before he faltered in the third round, and Spieth holds a slim lead over a trio of players, each in search of a win that would bring with it the final golden ticket to the Masters.

That group includes veterans Scott Piercy and Johnson Wagner, the latter having won here in 2008. After losing full-time status last season, Wagner is playing this week on a sponsor invite.

“If I just keep doing the same stuff, I feel like I’ll have a good chance tomorrow late,” Wagner said. “I’m driving the ball great, and the putter is getting better and better every day.”

It also includes Austin Cook, a mini-tour player who earned a spot via a Monday qualifier. He successfully battled nerves alongside Mickelson, and a victory would be one of golf’s ultimate rags-to-riches stories.

“With the pressure of being in the final group and for my first time, I was pretty pleased with that,” said Cook, who shot a 2-under 70 to get within a shot of Spieth. “Now just rest, get a good night’s sleep and get ready to do it all over again tomorrow.”

Cook entered the week at No. 993 in the world and will look to chase down Spieth, the No. 4-ranked player in the world with more wins (two) than Cook has prior starts on the PGA Tour (one).

It almost shapes up like a David-vs-Goliath contest – you know, if Goliath were more than two years younger than his counterpart.

Yes, while Cook turned 24 last month, Spieth won’t celebrate his 22nd birthday until July. The age check only offers further perspective on the meteoric nature of Spieth’s ascent.

Each brush with contention seems to better prepare Spieth for the next one, and after trying to chase down Jimmy Walker last week he is keenly aware of the benefits of the pole position.

“I can control my own destiny tomorrow,” he said. “I’m perfectly fine with that fact, and excited about trying to do so.”

Spieth is clearly confident, but far from cocky. Success begets success, and he’s been doing a lot of begetting these last four months. The cycle shows no sign of slowing down, and it should probably be cause for concern – both for the players looking to catch him this week and those who will look to slow him down next week.

“Ideally when I looked back to preparing the best way I could for the Masters, I wanted to get into contention as much as I could prior, to have as much experience and to limit those nerves and feel more comfortable each time,” he said. “Today was as comfortable as I’ve ever been with the lead on a weekend, which feels really good.”

Players speak regularly about trying to peak for the season’s four majors. For Spieth, another win would put an exclamation point on those efforts.

It would move him to No. 2 in the world, and it just might move him to No. 1 among the favorites for the Masters.