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What's Holding Jordan Spieth Back from Winning a Marquee Tournament?

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What's Holding Jordan Spieth Back from Winning a Marquee Tournament?
Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

Once again, Jordan Spieth was in the final group of a big tournament on a Sunday. Once again, he came up short of being crowned a champion.

It happened at the Masters last month, when the 20-year-old Spieth was tied with Bubba Watson at the start of the day, and he ended up shooting a 72 and finishing tied for second, three strokes behind Watson.

And it happened again on Sunday at TPC Sawgrass. Spieth began the day tied with Martin Kaymer at the top of the leaderboard, but he ended up with a 74 and a tie for fifth. After his round, Golf Central tweeted that Spieth told reporters, "My putter just went cold." 

Both times, Spieth was a huge story heading into the final day. Both times, as huge international audience looked on, Spieth faded into the background and watched his playing partners go on to claim the trophies.

Golf writer Shane Bacon of Yahoo! Sports even joked on Twitter about the two bad finishes.

Kidding or not, with final-round letdowns in back-to-back marquee tournaments, Spieth is already beginning to build somewhat of a reputation as a choker. Fair or not, that's what happens in the glare of the final-pairing spotlight. After he finished his round and tied for fifth, Spieth noted on Twitter that he still needed some experience before he figured out how to close these big tournaments.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Spieth and Kaymer, the winner of the Players Championship.

Breaking them down, both his final rounds at the Masters and the Players Championship were similar. At the Masters on Sunday, Spieth was three under par through seven holes, before back-to-back bogeys on the eighth and ninth holes, which Watson happened to birdie. 

This Sunday at Sawgrass, Spieth was one under par on the day until the eighth hole. Then, as Kaymer steadied and surged, Spieth hit four bogeys in the next eight holes to shoot himself out of contention. He failed to make a push for the championship on the back nine of either tournament. 

Spieth's last couple of high-profile final-round duds are so surprising because they starkly contrast his cool, collected and clutch demeanor throughout the first few days. At the Masters, he was one of only two players to be under par in each of the first three rounds. At the Players Championship, he went through the first three rounds without a single bogey.

Those rounds put the 20-year-old, who was the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 2013, in the spotlight. They put him on the cusp of big-time stardom.

With Tiger Woods injured and without a major since 2008, American golf fans are hungry for the "Next Big Thing." Spieth's big-time talent and youth have set him up as a top candidate. Of course, that means the expectations have become a bit out of proportion to the timeline.

Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN.com thinks it's absolutely ridiculous that people are disappointed with Spieth's performances on Sundays. 

...I heard someone inside the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse mention Spieth and then say, "You know, he's had trouble playing well on Saturdays and closing out on Sundays."

Wait ... what?

Spieth is 20. I repeat, 20. He isn't old enough to rent a car. He needs a fake ID to buy an adult beverage. Miguel Angel Jimenez has hair product older than Spieth.

So when someone suggests that Spieth can't handle the pressure, or can't close out a tournament, I want to smack them with a bunker rake.

Jason Sobel of the Golf Channel agrees. On Twitter, he pointed out that very few players are able to handle final-round nerves well when they are that young.

The truth is, that at just 20 years old, Spieth already has one PGA tour title under his belt, a runner-up finish in a major and a top-five finish at the Players Championship. As of Sunday he's ranked sixth in the FedEx Cup standings and seventh in the Official World Golf Rankings. His accomplishments are awe-inspiring. Two average final rounds do not make them disappointing.

What's holding back Spieth from winning a big tournament like the Masters or the Players Championship? The same thing that's holding back other players: It's a really hard thing to do.  

Jordan Spieth is the real deal. It's just a matter of time until he proves it on a big-time Sunday.

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