Why Jordan Spieth’s ‘disappointing’ finish at Byron Nelson could bode well for him at PGA
McKINNEY — Long before lightning halted play at 1:52 p.m. Sunday and the rivers started rising, threatening to wash out three days of happy memories if not a bridge or two at TPC Craig Ranch, the AT&T Byron Nelson was over for Jordan Spieth. Any hope of catching K.H. Lee dissipated before the deluge. His 10th attempt at his hometown tournament was his best, with a few signature moments, but it came up short, nonetheless.
The worst part, other than failing to capitalize on his prime position going into Sunday?
Waiting around a couple of hours to get it over with.
Had to fill the time somehow.
“I already started looking ahead,” he said, alluding to this week’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.
“I can’t wait to get over there.”
The former Texas star has a couple reasons to feel optimistic these days. First, his final-round 71 left him 18-under and in a four-way tie for ninth, his first top-10 finish at the Nelson and a good sign going into next week’s PGA, where he’ll once again try to add that major to his British Open, U.S. Open and Masters titles to complete golf’s grand slam. Two years ago, in the Nelson’s debut at Trinity Forest, Spieth finished T-29. Believe it or not, it ranked among his top four Nelson finishes until this year. The next week at Bethpage Black, he tied for third, one of the highlights of a four-year winless drought that ended this spring at the Valero Texas Open. If a 29th-place finish could kick-start that kind of performance, think what a top-10 could do for next week.
The other reason: The Nelson gave him a chance to chip at the rust accumulating around his iron play after his extended COVID-19 respite. His improvement in approaches — going into the Nelson, he was 21st on the Tour in strokes gained: approach; last year, he was outside the top 100 — has been the foundation of his comeback. Even if his irons and putter were spotty this week, he believes another 36 holes of practice in South Carolina should help.
“I need to tighten up a little bit around and on the greens,” he said. “Sometimes it just takes a couple putts early in a round and the lid comes off for the whole week.
“Hopefully that’s how it is.”
Spieth couldn’t do that at the Nelson. He didn’t want to blame the layoff, but it was a factor. So, too, was the course. Though TPC Craig Ranch was warmly-received by players and fans alike and no doubt will enjoy a long run as the Nelson’s home, it doesn’t set up particularly well for Spieth.
Combine all that with the fact that he’s an emotional golfer playing in front of the home crowd.
“Coming into the week, if you told me top 10, I would probably take it,” he said. “It’s always a long week. It’s such a fun week, and then at the end, I’m pretty excited to go to the next one.”
As much as Spieth loves the Nelson, the tournament he grew up with and the one that afforded him his auspicious start, it hasn’t been particularly good to him. The odds of overcoming that history seemed promising only three shots out of the lead going into Sunday.
Even with the threat of storms, prompting officials to group golfers in threes and move up tee times, Spieth predicted scores would still go low. He was right. Patton Kizzire shot 9-under Sunday and Daniel Berger rivaled him with a 64. They finished in a four-way tie for third behind Lee, whose 66 gave him four rounds at 67 or better, and Sam Burns, three shots back at 22-under.
Spieth, who raised expectations significantly with his 63 on Thursday, had no such move in him Sunday.
“Today was a little disappointing,” he said. “Just was tough.
“What a battle.”
For players and fans alike. Judging by pictures from friends and family, Spieth said “it looked like a bigger mess outside of the ropes.” Until the rain started, his considerable gallery — which over the course of the week included a guy with a “JORDAN” license plate around his neck — ran two or three deep in places and sat on ready. But it wasn’t much of a party. As Lee and others took a deep dive on the front nine, Spieth treaded water. He birdied 5 and 6, only to give one back at the par-3 7th. He rarely afforded himself the opportunity for any putts like his eagles on 18. The one on Thursday so thrilled the patrons, Spieth said the response “shook” him.
By the time Sunday’s two-hour delay was over and a dozen or so attendants had squeegeed a small lake from the surface of the 18th fairway, only a couple hundred fans remained. Spieth replaced his ball where the impromptu lake had once been and gave it his best shot. But by then his mind was already other places.