Golf

Jordan Spieth still searching after tough PGA Championship third round

Golf

One scene Thursday at TPC Harding Park perfectly summed up the state of Jordan Spieth's game

After shooting a sloppy 3-over-par 73 in the opening round of the 2020 PGA Championship, Spieth went to the practice range. There the former world No. 1 stayed trying to find something to help him recapture the magic that saw him win three majors by the age of 24. It was the vision of a man who was uncomfortable at a place he once dominated. A man still lost at the place he should be the most comfortable. But it also showed a former champion unwilling to give in, determined to keep fighting to get back to the player he showed he could be -- one of the game's best.

Spieth's game was crisper Friday, firing a 2-under-par 68 to make the cut on the number. If not for a loose approach shot on No. 18, Spieth would have posted a bogey-free second-round and taken real momentum into the weekend. Still, it looked like he might have found something, enough to post a low number of Saturday and once again contend with less than his best on a major stage.

That was not to be.

Spieth went out early Saturday with his good friend and new world No. 1 Justin Thomas and was put through the wringer by TPC Harding Park. Spieth bogeyed six of his first eight holes. He looked exhausted and exasperated as he fought his swing through a grueling round by Laker Merced.

When the carnage was over, Spieth had recorded two birdies and eight bogeys to post a 6-over-par 76 and fall to dead last in the field among players who made the cut.

 

Spieth arrived at TPC Harding Park looking to finally capture the career grand slam that has eluded him since he won the 2017 British Open at Royal Birkdale.

The past three seasons have been a grinder for one of the most talented players on tour. Gone is the player who lapped the field at the 2015 Masters and outdueled Dustin Johnson at the 2015 U.S. Open. The swagger of the guy who yelled for his caddie Michael Greller to "Go get that!" after a clutch eagle putt on Sunday at Royal Birkdale has been replaced by a lost golfing soul. One who has stood at the pinnacle of the game but since plummeted into golfing hell.

Spieth still has shown he can contend with a lot less than his A-game at major championships. He made a famous Sunday charge at the 2018 Masters, posting a final-round, 8-under-par 64 to come up two shots short of eventual champion Patrick Reed. He tied for third at the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black while fighting his swing.

Thomas watched Spieth struggle Saturday but knows his friend will rediscover his major championship form.

"I know he's going to be fine," Thomas said after his round. "I'm not just saying it because he's one of my best friends. I mean, just I've seen him get it around when he's not playing well.  I've seen him play well when he is playing well. All of us go through little spurts. It's just for him, this has just been a tough one. I mean, he's going to be fine. All it takes sometimes is one week and all your confidence gets back. I think Brooks kind of spoke on that a little bit, whether it was last week, or maybe before that, but just he found something last week obviously and he's playing well again this week. So, that's golf."

Spieth hasn't won since that 2017 British Open win at Royal Birkdale. There have been flashes of the old Spieth, but he has been unable to bottle and maintain it.

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But he hasn't given up. He continues to battle as his range session Thursday and finishing birdie Sunday showed.

"Yeah, didn't give up," Thomas said. "He didn't quit at all today. He didn't play well. Whenever he felt like he hit a good drive, he misgauged the wind or just didn't hit a good shot. And you know, he said walking off 18, he's like, 'I'm sorry, man. I just didn't really give you any momentum,' and that's a good friend trying to take the blame."

The 27-year-old star will tee it up early Sunday morning at TPC Harding Park well out of contention at the 102nd PGA Championship. He'll have 18 more holes by the Bay to try and find the comfort that has been missing at a place he has dominated his entire life.

 

He'll grind through another round hoping something clicks, and the Jordan Spieth of old finally reemerges from his long, soul-searching golf odyssey.