How appropriate that Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin” played in the background as Jordan Spieth talked about ending a 1,351-day victory drought on Sunday, appropriately in his home state of Texas.
Spieth won the Travelers Championship and Open Championship a month apart in 2017 to join Tiger Woods as the only players to notch 10 PGA Tour victories before the age of 24. But after winning his third major championship with a stirring comeback to beat Matt Kuchar at Royal Birkdale in England, Spieth’s game inexplicably fell into the abyss.
Spieth had an especially wayward driver that put constant stress on his iron play and short game, even his once remarkable putting stroke. He kept insisting he would win again, but it became more and more difficult to believe as the months and years passed, causing him to have to listen to doubters talk about how he USED to play.
Spieth fell from No. 1 in the world rankings to as low as 93rd and missed four cuts, including in the U.S. Open in September, in seven starts in late 2020 and early 2021. But he then took the lead in the Waste Management Open Phoenix Open and AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on the way to a tie for ninth and third that were two of three top-five finishes in five stroke-play events, giving he and his devout followers hope he would indeed reach the winner’s circle again.
Spieth finally achieved his elusive goal after being four strokes back after eight holes on Saturday and then shooting 12 under the rest of the way. He had seven birdies in a final-round, 6-under-par 66 at TPC San Antonio for a 72-hole total of 18-under 270 and a two-stroke victory over tenacious Charley Hoffman, who was trying to end a winless streak since the 2016 Texas Open.
It was the 12th PGA Tour title for the 27-year-old Spieth, giving gave him momentum heading into the Masters, which he won in 2015 and begins Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga.
“It has been a long road,” a smiling Spieth said after winning his 83rd start since his Open victory. “I never really doubted myself to be able to get back to where I wanted to be, but when you lose confidence, a lot of times it’s hard to see the positive going forward.
“There’s peaks and valleys in this sport, but I never expected to go this long. Back then, in between wins, maybe I took more for granted than I should have. It’s very difficult to win out here, and I’ll certainly enjoy this one as much as I have any other.”
Many people, including players, admired how Spieth never complained or made excuses or refused interviews throughout his down times. He said he felt “lighter” as he started Sunday and decided to just smile and have fun.
“I felt really comfortable,” Spieth said.
Spieth started the day tied for the lead at 12 under with Englishman Matt Wallace and moved in front to stay with four birdies in the first eight holes for a two-stroke lead over Hoffman, who began two back and birdied three of the first six holes. Wallace, playing on a sponsor’s exemption, fell three behind when he shot par 36 on the front nine.
Spieth, who has been No. 1 for 261 weeks, made an 8-foot par save on the 11th hole after a poor approach into a bunker and then sank a 13-footer for birdie at No. 12 to open a three-stroke lead. Hoffman notched strong saves on the 10th, 11th and 12th holes and then knocked in a 35-foot chip for birdie at No. 13 to get within two strokes of Spieth.
Spieth maintained a two-shot edge with a clutch 8 1/2-foot birdie putt at the 14th hole after Hoffman had already made birdie-4. Both made excellent saves at No. 15, Spieth hitting a 90-foot pitch that stopped inches short of the cup and Hoffman making a 51/2-foot putt after his approach found a bunker.
Hoffman sank a 20-foot birdie putt at the 16th hole to get within a stroke of Spieth, who two-putted for par from the fringe. But Spieth regained his two-shot lead with a 5-foot birdie putt at No. 17 for his 11th one-putt of the round and 42nd of the week. A routine par at the 18th hole enabled Spieth to end a mystifying slump and being 146th in fourth-round scoring behind him.
“This is a monumental win for me,” said Spieth, who was happy he wasn’t overly emotional. “It’s been a long road. There were a lot of times that I didn’t know I would be (in the interview area).”
Spieth, who moved to seventh-place in the FedExCup standings, heads to the Masters after joining Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas as the only players to win at least 12 times before turning 28 in the past 40 years. He is now 10-for-19 when leading after the third round, including in the 2017 Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, where he’s expected to play on June 24-27.
“I’ve had a chance on Sundays three or four different times in the last two months, and today was by far the best that I played,” said Spieth, who actively worked with caddie Michael Greller throughout the round.
“Just to see those putts go in, I felt like I was doing everything right those other Sundays and I hit good putts and they wouldn’t go in. Today I hit a couple that I didn’t quite strike very well but they went in.”
A gracious Hoffman, who also closed with 66, gave credit where credit was due.
“I’ve lost golf tournaments, I’ve won golf tournaments, but today Jordan won the golf tournament,” said Hoffman, who needed a victory to qualify for the Masters. “Obviously, I put some pressure on.
“Obviously, I would have liked to have hit some better shots coming down the stretch, but I gave myself an opportunity coming down the 18th fairway and that’s all you can ask for. Hats off to Jordan.”
Wallace, who has won four times on the European Tour, shot 70 to finish third at 274, two ahead of Lucas Glover (66).
Spieth heads to Augusta National, where he owns a win, two runner-ups, and solo third in seven career starts.
“There’s some key moments here and there, different time periods where I felt like things were turning around,” Spieth said, who has a win and three additional top-5 finishes in his last six (stroke-play) starts.
“There are also moments I look back on where I hit balls till my hands bled and I wasn’t doing the right thing and I just went home and thought about it. Lost sleep.
“This sport can take you a lot of different directions, but it just shows that if you put yourself in position enough times, you’re going to win.”
On this day, Spieth won $1,386,000 and enjoyed a trophy ceremony that came with a pair of Lucchese cowboy boots, crafted in Texas since 1883.
Again, how appropriate!!!!