Augusta, GA—In 1985, carbonated soft drink called Jolt was created to give people an extra amount of caffeine to serve as a stimulant. For Jordan Spieth, the 22-year-old defending champion — just being back at Augusta National — was enough of a jolt for the Texan to take early command of this year’s Masters with a stellar no-bogey six-under-par round of 66.
Spieth has played in just three Masters — a total of 13 rounds — none has been over par thus far. Over the last five rounds of play — the four from 2015 and the first round this year — there’s been constant — Spieth has placed himself at the top of the heap. Like 2015 when he seized the first day lead and never relinquished it — Spieth came out of the gates ready to play amidst pesky swirling winds that proved vexing to many other competitors. World number one and pre-tourney favorite Jason Day cruised to his best front nine at Augusta — going out in 31. Day limped home strokes higher on the inward half and finished even par-72. Rory McIlroy, the 3rd ranked player on the planet seemed to be ready to be nipping at the heels of Spieth most especially after eagling the par-5 13th — but the Northern Irishman bogied two of the last three holes and finished at two-under-par 70. Certainly not a bad round but held against Jordan’s jolt from the pack everyone else looked like they were walking in slow motion.
Coming into this year’s first major event of the year — there were question marks for Spieth. After winning the first event in 2016 in convincing fashion in Hawaii — Spieth then jetted to distant global locations and his game simply ran out of gas. For some critics — the sheer demands on his time in heading to distant locations made many wonder if too much energy was being wasted with so many big events to be played. But Spieth showed a good bit of life in finishing strong at last week’s Houston Open and giving him a good bit of confidence that his peak play was ready to blossom at Augusta National this week.
Try this for starters — Spieth is -29 for all his rounds ever played at Augusta National and -24 over the last five. While other players clearly have the edge over Jordan in terms of the capacity to hit longer drives — he simply has no peer when the game nears any putting surface. His putting prowess came to the forefront several times during the first round when the putter kept his scorecard free from any blemish beyond par. While others quake at the devilish contours the greens at Augusta National provide — it is Spieth who calmly handles all types of putts with a wizard-like quality. Equal or beyond even the best of putters in recent times such as former two-time Masters Champion and fellow Texan Ben Crenshaw and four-time winner Tiger Woods missing his 2nd Masters in three years because of injury.
Spieth is in a position to tie the Masters record for most consecutive rounds in leading the field — Arnold Palmer did it for six straight rounds in 1961 and halfway through the ’62 event. The issue that separates Spieth is his overall calmness in big time situations. It’s hard to fathom he’s just 22 years old and yet he displays a veteran’s poise no matter the situation. Confidence is present — just not arrogance. Belief in his abilities no question but not believing for a second that anything but real mental preparation will suffice.
When Spieth did encounter a bit of trouble in his round with a pushed tee shot at the dangerous par-4 11th — he played a bold recovery which got his ball to the edge of the green and he simply two-putted and walked away with a par that propelled him to finish his round with a closing birdie at the 18th hole. Risky. No question. But Jordan made it pay-off with a resoluteness to go with what he believed he could do.
In 2015, Spieth won his first green jacket and tied the tournament record of 270 that Tiger Woods shot during his first Masters win in ’97. Jordan went on to win the US Open and finished the four majors with a -54 total or 1,090 total strokes — the lowest aggregate total ever. The second lowest? Try Tiger Woods in 2000 with a four-round aggregate of 1,095. That -54 total may be one record that will stand for quite some time.
There’s more golf to be played for sure but Spieth is producing stellar golf. One has to wonder if the pressure is more on his chasing competitors than it is with him. In that manner Spieth is similar to Woods. When Tiger was playing at his peak — he simply forced players to play endless catch-up. The net result? Those making the chase produced faulty executions on holes with little margin for error.
Should Spieth win this week he would defend his title — joining the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Woods in winning in consecutive years. Jordan doesn’t need any extra dosage of caffeine to get his engine roaring — the jolt he provided to his fellow competitors in round one demonstrates that unless someone shows some real golf prowess this Texan will be one tough hombre to catch.
M. James Ward, a member of Golf Writer’s Association of America (GWAA) and past member of Met Golf Writer’s Association (MGWA), has reported on golf’s grandest events since 1980 in a variety of forums.