For the second consecutive PGA Championship, Jordan Spieth is going into the week with an opportunity to become the sixth player in PGA Tour history to win the career grand slam. A big difference, though, at this time last year, Spieth was on a one-event winless drought; this year it’s a one-year-plus drought.
Spieth admits his recent poor play has stifled the buzz of a potential grand slam.
“I think I was probably a little more anxious last year. I think, going in, there was a big focus on it, given it was right after The Open Championship – after winning The Open Championship, so it was fresh, I was in form, and going to a place that, if I worked up the leaderboard, it would create a lot of noise,” said Spieth.
“I feel somewhat under the radar this year. I’ve kind of felt that way a lot this year, I don’t mind it.”
Not that the 25-year-old has completely fallen on his face, but he has been in a perplexing slump, especially since his solo-third place finish at The Masters in April. In nine events since, he has just one top 20, and six finishes outside the top 40, including three missed cuts.
That top 20 came at The Open Championship, where Spieth looked like Spieth again for three days, holding the 54-hole co-lead and making the final Sunday pairing, before collapsing on Sunday with a birdieless 76 and finishing T9.
After the Open, in a TV interview, Spieth claimed his putting was where he wanted it, but it was clear to everyone else that his game is still broken.
On Monday, he spoke more openly, and sounded a little less delusional.
“I was disappointed. I really thought — I felt good going into the round. I actually felt as comfortable as I ever have on a major championship Sunday,” said Spieth.
“I liked where my ball striking was. I liked the progression in the putting, and I just — that I needed to get through the first probably eight holes at even par as we played into the breeze there and then be able to turn around and shoot 1 or 2-under on the back, and 5 and 6 really hurt off of shots that I could control.
“So just two bad swings that kind of put me from controlling my own destiny to having to come from behind.
“Certainly learned from it. I don’t think I could have done a whole lot differently. I just didn’t play the conditions the right way, which I would say is abnormal historically for me.
“So the course changed a lot on that Sunday and just played a couple shots five yards off of where I really meant to hit them, and that was enough to throw you behind. Then I just didn’t make any putts, but I hit good putts, so sometimes that happens.”
In his Open follow-up, Spieth finished T60 in the 73-man WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
In Akron he saw a statistical breakdown nearly opposite to what he was drawing earlier this season: he putted very well, but his tee-to-green game was abysmal. With a different part of his game causing his downtrending results seemingly every time he tees up, the problem is much more likely mental than mechanical.
Despite it all, Spieth feels his season thus far has been somewhat successful, at least in terms of competing at the majors.
“Yeah, I mean each week, if I don’t have a chance to win on Sunday, I’m disappointed waking up. And certainly go out there and try my best and compete,” said Spieth.
“But I understand this year’s been kind of a building year for me, and I’ve been working back towards the level that I like to be at, and it’s getting close and certainly starting to see some results from it, through The Open Championship.
“If I look back, I try and focus on four tournaments a year, I have a huge emphasis on them, and two of them I’ve had a chance to win on Sunday this year. So if I’m looking at it from that standpoint, it’s kind of mission accomplished with one to go.
“But obviously, getting in the winner’s circle when it’s been over a year is something that I obviously would like to do. But I don’t feel any added pressure from it, I won’t, but if it happens or doesn’t happen through the rest of this calendar year, I’m working in the right direction, I’m doing the right things, and again you get yourself in position enough, the bounces will go your way.”
The good news is, his mental game can be fixed, and when he has that edge and has that confidence, few players rival him. Look for Spieth to exhibit an inspiring four-day effort at Bellerive, but to complete the story, he will have to avoid that one bad round that has plagued every one of his starts in the past two months.