Jordan Spieth said he made two bad swings on Sunday.
One he got away with.
The second one? Not so much.
Tied for the lead with three holes left, and a second Valspar Championship title within reach, Spieth stepped on the tee at Innisbrook’s demanding par-4 16th hole, needing to hit an uncomfortable shot on the Copperhead Course’s most nervy hole.
The shot in question: a 3-wood that comes out low, straight and fading.
“With what I'm trying to do in my swing, it is the most challenging shot,” Spieth said.
Two days earlier, Spieth noted that he lost a bit of structure with his swing that made those “low fade intense” shots more difficult. Things weren’t any better during his final-round warm-up, during which Spieth hit “some terrible ones,” and on the sixth hole Sunday, Spieth sliced one almost into the seventh fairway before somehow saving par.
But a successful execution on the par-5 first hole gave Spieth a sliver of hope, which is all his edge-of-your-seat style usually requires.
“So, I was like, I'm just going to try to have the feels of No. 1,” Spieth said, “and I hit it off the heel. When you hit it off the heel, it's going to start spinning with the breeze.”
It didn’t help either that Spieth bailed on the swing, trying to lean forward to avoid hitting a high ball. With water guarding the inside of the right dogleg, Spieth’s ball faded hard and splashed in the middle of the pond.
OK, so Spieth ended up making a really good bogey, dropping at the water’s edge, hitting his third shot to about 170 yards and eventually rolling in a 16-footer like it was nothing. But with Taylor Moore posting 10 under and his playing competitor, Adam Schenk, also tied for the lead, Spieth, now a shot back, needed at least one birdie, maybe two, to have a chance.
Spieth, who saw Moore’s final score walking off the 16th green, wasted no time pulling the heroics out of his magician’s hat, knocking his tee shot at the par-3 17th hole from 219 yards to inside 7 feet.
But he still needed to roll in the putt.
“I thought he might knock that one in,” said Moore, who at that point was staying warm on the range, likely looking at a playoff with Schenk, Spieth, or both.
Only Spieth missed the birdie putt.
“I tried to die the putt in on 17,” Spieth said, “and just misread how much it was going to dive at the end.”
Full-field scores Valspar Championship
Spieth then found the left rough off the tee at No. 18, and his approach shot barely failed to get on the back shelf, his ball stopping briefly on the ridge before rolling back to about 48 feet.
“It came down about a foot right of the pin,” Spieth said, “and I think if it was about a yard left of the pin, you know, it stays there, and I’ve got a decent look.”
But, as Spieth added, “You just can't rely on having to birdie that hole to that pin.”
The lengthy birdie attempt never scared the hole as it raced past, and Spieth would miss the comebacker, too, to hand solo second to Schenk, who also bogeyed the hole. Spieth's 1-under 71 left him tied for third with Tommy Fleetwood, the third top-6 finish in his past five starts.
Afterward, Spieth revealed that his target score was 3 under. And through 15 holes of bogey-free golf, that’s exactly where Spieth stood.
“It was the boring round I was looking for,” he said.
Until it wasn’t.
Spieth reckoned he played much better than his score on Sunday, but ultimately, he faded late – literally – with a second costly swing that even he couldn’t save par from.
“I just said, ‘Screw it,’ I'm trusting it, and I didn't try and like play away from it,” Spieth said. “I leaned into it and didn't pull it off. I'm better mis-executing than playing scared. … If I played scared, I probably would have made bogey and tied [my score on] the hole anyway.”