Let’s face it, folks. As career skids go, a guy could do a lot worse.
Since reaching the list of major champions with a wire-to-wire masterpiece at the Masters, 21-year-old wunderkind Jordan Spieth had proceeded to finish tied for 11th at the RBC Heritage and tied for 17th at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play before missing the cut at The Players Championship two weekends ago.
And he collected precisely $215,624 for his troubles along the way.
Still, because he entered this week’s Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial having not won in (gasp!) 39 days, the hyperbolic savior of post-Tiger golf in the Americas has spent much of the recent time taking questions and making headlines regarding the lingering impact of a would-be Augusta “hangover.”
He verbally dismissed the absurd chatter along the way, claiming the winless aftermath has been the result of a whirlwind month with little time to work on fundamentals—or, for that matter, sleeping in his own bed. But he was savvy enough to know it would take solid rounds, not pithy replies, to quiet the din.
Well, given his performance over four days and 72 holes in north central Texas, he’s probably at least bought himself some extra time before the “Jordan is finished” columns start to get queued up.
Though the drought will extend for at least another week, thanks to his three-way tie for second at 11 under par 269—one shot behind clutch-putting winner Chris Kirk—a barely grizzled Spieth flashed enough of a presumably untapped potential to push the CBS broadcast crew’s needles to “gush.”
He was in a four-way tie for the lead after a Brandt Snedeker bogey at the par-three 13th, but he fell out after his own three-putt bogey two groups ahead at No. 16. A par at the 17th put him two shots out as Kirk ascended a shifting leaderboard, before a 12-foot birdie on the final hole cut the gap back to one.
Had Kirk not ultimately gotten up and down from the fringe on 18, it would have yielded a playoff.
But even without the extra face time, Spieth’s admirers were already back to their fawning selves.
“Great putt, young man,” CBS analyst Ian Baker-Finch called out from the tower alongside the 18th green. “Under the pressure, spectacular stuff. He just continues to deliver, doesn’t he?”
Not to be outdone, broadcast host Jim Nantz provided some historical context regarding the hole-out.
“This is what the great ones do,” he said. “They make that putt on the last hole. Remember when Jack would always make the putt at the 18th? Just like that, Spieth delivers the goods.” Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman confirms that statement with some Spieth stats:
It’s doubtful an affirmation was needed for a non-win at a non-major, but what seems beyond contention is that the Dallas native’s game is getting back toward winning shape as he heads to the final two events—the Byron Nelson and the Memorial—before the return of major season next month.
In fact, upon his arrival for the U.S. Open on June 18, it’s a fair bet “hangover” will have been replaced in questions and headlines by “rivalry,” particularly when they come in tandem with “Rory McIlroy.”
Though Spieth concedes he’s not on par with a 26-year-old European with four major championships, his declarations have stopped nearly no one from labeling it the sport’s next great competitive conflict.
The two were part of a threesome on the way to the youngster’s two-round flame-out at the Players event, but given his strong finish in Fort Worth Sunday and the possibility of more success at the hometown Byron Nelson—where he twice made the cut as a teenager—a rematch could be imminent.
Short of a Woods resurrection, it’s precisely what the game could use going forward.
But if we get to June 21 and the slump has reached 70 days, someone take Nantz’s shoelaces.