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Spieth finding that his biggest rival is himself

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PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Jordan Spieth knows how comparisons go.

When he won the Masters for his first major at 21, he equaled Tiger Woods’ scoring record (18 under).

When he won his third major at 23, he was better than Woods in the majors, at the same age.

There was danger in that, in being measured that way.

Spieth understood, but now that’s he going through a dry spell, looking for his best form again, the comparisons are different. In some ways, they’re even more challenging.

Spieth is being compared to himself.

“Comparisons to other years that you’ve had,” Spieth said Wednesday at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, where he won two years ago. “But I’m used to that, four or five years in.”

Spieth, 25, is coming off his worst year on tour, and that’s the kind of comparison he reads and hears more now. He didn’t win last year, marking the first time he hadn’t won somewhere in the world since joining the PGA Tour as a rookie. He won three times in 2017, including here at Pebble Beach. He won three times around the world in 2016 and five times in ’15.

There were good runs last year at the Masters (3rd) and The Open (T-9), but not a lot of other chances to get him his first victory in 18 months now, since his Open title at Royal Birkdale.

“Are you getting a lot of static, or questions from people, [like] what happened to you?”

That’s the question Spieth got Wednesday from a reporter wanting to know how he’s handling his winless spell.

Full-field tee times from the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am

AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am: Articles, photos and videos

“At this point, it’s how do I improve, to get myself in contention this week, and then what do I do next week?” Spieth said. “And just staying very present and recognizing the longevity of a career, and that your career's not defined by a couple bad years.

“I could have really poor years the rest of my career and still have a pretty fantastic career. So, if I just think about it that way, it kind of certainly makes me a little happier, frees me up a bit.” 

With back-to-back missed cuts wedged between a T-55 and a T-35 this season, Spieth is returning to a happy place. He plays well here on the Monterey Peninsula. Besides his victory in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two seasons ago, there was a T-7 finish in 2015 and a T-4 in ’14.

Smitten the first time he played Pebble Beach, Spieth still remembers the impression that stretch from the fourth to 10th holes made on him.

“About as beautiful as anywhere in the world, and I fell in love with the place,” he said. 

Pebble Beach could be good for what ails Spieth.

“I’m in a good place right now,” Spieth said, referring to a place in his game as much as a place on the planet. “I feel like my game's trending the right direction. Sometimes that means results are coming soon, sometimes it means they're coming later, but they're coming.

“I'm not going to chase them, as hard as I tried to maybe force or chase them last year, because you can get hurt doing that. You can get into some bad patterns.”

Spieth is 80th on Tour in scoring this season (71.06), 198th in greens in regulation, 72nd in strokes gained: putting but third in putting average. It’s early still, just four starts into the season, with a big life event in his marriage in late November, but with so much young talent on tour, he doesn’t want to fall too far behind his stoutest competition. 

The former world No. 1 slipped to No. 21 this week, but he likes the work he put in since tying for 35th at the Farmers Insurance Open in his last start two weeks ago.

“I think my putter has been really good over the last five, six months,” Spieth said. “I've seen a lot of improvement there, back to where I needed to be, and it's close to being really close to where it's been in the past.

“And then with the ball striking, just trying to kind of work through a little bit of some timing stuff, and starting to really see some solid shots. I didn't strike the ball well at all the last two events I played, but in San Diego I was able to score in spite of that.

“I'm excited about what the last couple days here has shown. So, I’ve just got to go out and trust what we have been working on.”