PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Bill Murray wasn’t dancing with anyone in a bunker or waving to the blimp, Justin Timberlake wasn’t chipping in or nearly making an ace, and there was no in-depth swing analysis on all sorts of, ahem, celebrity golf swings on the 17th tee.
No, it wasn’t your typical Saturday fun day at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, not with COVID-19 getting in the way and keeping celebrities and amateurs and fans away. Then again, it was your typical Saturday in this annual gathering hard by the sea – raw conditions, spectacular scenery highlighted by crashing waves and a leaderboard packed with contenders.
And a star leading the way.
For the second consecutive Saturday, Jordan Spieth lit up the golf world and placed himself firmly in contention to win for the first time since he captured the Claret Jug in 2017 at Royal Birkdale.
With a less than star-packed field, Spieth is exactly the leading man the tournament craved and is creating buzz with a standout performance. With his second hole-out eagle of the week, Spieth signed for a 1-under-par 71 at windy, chilly Pebble Beach to move to 13 under and two clear of the field.
The last time Spieth held the outright 54-hole lead? The 2017 Northern Trust. He led by three but Dustin Johnson caught him and then beat Spieth in a playoff. Since then, the three-time major winner and former world No. 1 has been on a steady, shocking fall, all the way down to 92nd in the world rankings at one point.
But he’s battled back, trusted the things he’s working on, and is in prime position to win his 12th PGA Tour title. Last Saturday in the Arizona desert, Spieth fired a 10-under-par 61 at TPC Scottsdale in the third round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. The round blew up social media and placed Spieth into a share of the 54-hole lead, but a final-round 72 dropped him into a tie for fourth.
It was his first top-10 in nearly a year.
“I’ve left quite a few shots out on the course, definitely yesterday and today, and I’m still in the position I want to be in,” Spieth said. “So with that being said, a lot of it was on the greens. I just didn’t get any putts to the hole today and I had some missed short ones today, including a 3-putt.
“So that was the problem on Sunday last week, I was just leaving them short and I didn’t adjust quick enough. They left the greens a little slower today with this wind and the same thing happened. I feel good about the progress being made day-to-day with my swing and then I’ve just got to be a little bit more aggressive on the greens. My nerves will be there the same as they were last Sunday, the same they were today. It’s not going to be the most comfortable feeling to start out, but it never is. You got to kind of get into the round and play into those kind of nerves and that adrenaline.”
At 11 under and two shots behind Spieth are Daniel Berger (72), Patrick Cantlay (70), Russell Knox (69), Tom Hoge (68) and Nate Lashley (68). Jason Day who has five top-5 finishes here in his last six starts, is three back after a 68. He’s joined there by Brian Stuard (69), Paul Casey (71) and Maverick McNealy (69).
Berger was tied for the lead and playing with Spieth when he drove his tee ball out of bounds on 18 and made seven. It was the first of 11 rounds he’s played in this tournament that Berger has not broken par.
It also wasn’t the first time he had a ringside seat to see Spieth do magical things. Berger lost to Spieth in a playoff in the 2017 Travelers Championship when Spieth holed his winning shot from a greenside bunker.
“Jordan’s going to have to play well because there’s a lot of guys right there, so, regardless, it’s not going to be handed to him, he’s going to have to shoot a good score,” said Berger, who tied for 10th here in 2015 and tied for fifth in 2020. “He’s a great player and I think there’s many more wins in his career going forward.”
After Spieth maintained a share of the lead or led outright on the front nine with three birdies and a lone bogey, he dropped three shots to par with bogeys on 10, 12 and 14. But he said he started to find his best tempo after the 11th hole.
“I started swinging monumentally better than I did prior to 12. It’s funny because I made two bogeys in those first three holes but I felt that I had started to really, really have the right tempo and get some of the feels I’ve had in some really good range sessions, and it started on 12 and it’s just kind of odd how that shifted,” Spieth said. “When I look back on a windy day, I hit 10 fairways, I would have liked to have hit more greens (he hit 10), but the way the swing started to feel as I rounded the turn and came in actually improved and I like that going into tomorrow.”
The best swing came at the par-4 16th. After a fairway-splitting tee ball of 249 yards, Spieth holed out from 160 yards for eagle. In the first round, he holed out from 113 yards for eagle-2 on the 10th at Pebble Beach. That keyed a 65 and he added a 67 at Spyglass Hill in the second round.
“I hit an 8-iron,” Spieth said of his Saturday eagle. “I had 158 yards adjusted, with the wind in off the right and a little bit of mud on right side of the ball, so I knew I could throw it out to the right and let kind of the wind and the mud do most of the work. In the air I thought it was going to be really good, it was one of the only shots I kind of said, ‘Oh, be good,’ today. And as it landed it was just exactly where I was trying to hit it. Certainly a bonus for it to drop.
“It’s a good lesson to learn for tomorrow, that how quickly things can change out here. Guys are going to make runs and I’ve just got to stay really patient, recognize that setting a goal for myself and sticking to it is important because things can change quickly out here.”
Win or not, Spieth will continue working on the things he believes will take him back to the game’s elite level.
“I don’t really care about the time frame stuff. I’m really just going to throw that out of my head because I’m finally consistently doing things over the last two weeks that I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” Spieth said. “Obviously the more you continue to do that, the bounces go your way, like the hole out did today on 16. Someone may do that to me tomorrow or come shoot a 64 or something. It’s golf and it’s Pebble Beach and you can go low and it can also be really challenging.
“I feel more confident but I don’t feel by any means that I have phenomenal control compared to other time periods where I’ve won three to five times in a season. So it’s working that direction, but it’s not there yet and I’m just trying to have it feel a little bit better than yesterday.”
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