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Finally back? After magical 61, Jordan Spieth on cusp of snapping losing streak

Jordan Spieth
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It’s been 1,294 days since Jordan Spieth last won a golf tournament.

During that span, Spieth has teed it up 76 times on Tour. He’s finished second twice, third three more times. He’s posted 16 top-10s. He’s struggled mightily. He’s shown glimpses. He’s disappointed many, including himself. He’s offered hope.

We’ve heard this: Is he back?!

And this: Will he ever be back?

And, yes, this (albeit prematurely): He’s back!

But here we go again. This emotional roller coaster that has been Spieth’s career since the Golden Child nabbed major No. 3 at Royal Birkdale in July 2017, one with more downs than ups, is trending upward once more. After Saturday’s magical 10-under 61 around TPC Scottsdale, Spieth finds himself tied for the 54-hole lead with Xander Schauffele at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

John Wood, who had a front-row seat to Spieth’s last win while caddying for Matt Kuchar on that memorable Sunday in England almost four years ago, described Saturday’s round, which he scored another prime vantage point for as an on-course reporter for Golf Channel, as “vintage Spieth.”

“It felt like the old Jordan,” Wood said afterward. “Hitting it, finding it, figuring it out and hitting it again.”

Spieth's confidence rewarded with third-round 61

Spieth's confidence rewarded with third-round 61

Billy Horschel, who was grouped with Spieth, concurred: “You could see it in his eyes … his demeanor. You could see the way the fans are really pulling for him.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a fraction of the normal Saturday crowd at the People’s Open. But you wouldn’t know it following Spieth. It seemed like everyone on the property found their way to Spieth’s group to watch the show.

Spieth played plenty of his greatest hits, too.

“Recover Like a Magician.” He hit just six fairways and found himself often hitting second shots off the desert terrain. Yet he nearly holed out from the hardpan a couple of times, including for eagle at the par-5 13th, and looked dead twice on the par-4 10th hole before chipping in for an unreal birdie.

“It’s Easy Hitting the Green.” While Spieth ranked dead last in driving accuracy on Saturday, his irons were dialed as he led the field in stroked gained approach. He missed only two greens.

And we can’t forget “Droppin’ Putts Like Their Hot.” Spieth converted four birdie putts outside of 10 feet, including a 36-footer at the famous par-3 16th and 30-footer on the short par-4 17th.

“He's such a great putter,” Horschel said. “You get him on the greens, and he thinks he can make it from anywhere.”

Added Spieth: “Momentum is a crazy thing. Just seems when a couple of them go they all start to go, and the hole starts looking bigger and bigger. … I was just putting really nice pace on it to where if it got anywhere near the hole, the hole seemed to grab it today.”

Through 54 exciting – and at times crazy – holes, most everything has seemed to go right for Spieth, whose 10 birdies in Round 3 marked a career-best mark while tying his personal low round on Tour. He admitted he “got away with murder” during an opening-round 67 and then felt “disappointed” with another 67 on Friday.

Spieth contended that he’s still not 100-percent confident with his swing, that at the moment he is “playing golf better than swinging the golf club.” But it’s getting there, and one shot in particular on Saturday proved that to him.

Facing 265 yards into an island green at the par-5 15th hole, Spieth flushed a hybrid to 25 feet and two-putted for birdie.

“That's just one that I get extra nervous on right now because of how much that shot has been a struggle for me, when you got water left and right and you got to really dial in have good tempo and hit just a high fade hybrid like that,” Spieth said. “That's a shot I just haven't had in the bag, and when I hit a shot like that it boosts that confidence level up to the next level where the more I can pull those shots off, especially in big moments like that, moves me back in closer to where I want to be.”

Waste Management Phoenix Open: Full-field scores | Full coverage

For Spieth, that’s back winning golf tournaments. Now, whether or not this wild ride plummets into oblivion yet again remains to be seen, but the stars certainly seem to be aligning for one of the Tour’s biggest stars. The only other time that Spieth shot 61 on Tour came at the 2015 John Deere Classic, which Spieth won. And sitting at 18 under through three rounds this week, Spieth has only accomplished shooting 16 under or better through 54 holes four previous times. He didn’t lose in any of those occasions.

Granted, there are caveats.

“I mean, I've been there a lot of times,” Spieth said, “but it's been a long time.”

That it has. The last time Spieth held the 54-hole lead or co-lead on Tour? The 2018 Open at Carnoustie, where he was paired in the final round with, you guessed it, Schauffele.

Spieth shot 76 and tied for ninth that day.

While he’s hoping for a different result Sunday, Spieth also knows that there’s a chance those 1,294 days keep growing. And that’s OK. While he wants to be back badly, he won’t be devastated if he doesn’t leave Scottsdale with a trophy in hand. If he fails to win, he's already been encouraged enough to believe that his time is coming.

“I have no expectations on the results tomorrow. I really don't,” Spieth said. “I built some freedom now seeing these results the first few days here to where I feel really good about the path I'm on. I feel good about what the long-term ahead looks like for me. And sometimes that's been in question. To myself. … I didn't look at a scoreboard today and probably won't tomorrow. It's just about going out there and trusting what I'm doing. I know that I'm going to hit some really nice shots that will build confidence – and some aren't going to be the best, and that's where I am right now: I know I can get the job done.”

So, is Jordan Spieth back? Maybe he already is, maybe he's close, maybe this week has been more smoke and mirrors and he's still got a ways to go. Regardless, we will soon find out.