Jordan Spieth takes a one-shot lead at Tiger’s gathering

Jordan Spieth is on a run. After lapping the field in last week’s Australian Open in Sydney, he flew home to Dallas to drop off his trophy and then flew out the next morning to join the elite field of 18 in the Hero World Challenge at Isleworth Golf and Country Club in Orlando.

Spieth shot a 6-under 66 that included a bogey to take a one-shot lead. In similar fashion to last week’s romp, he was 5-under on the front nine alone.

“It was a good Thursday.  Really good start.  Nice to put myself in position under par; get a feel for how the course is playing this week.”

“Seeing some putts go in is always important.  Felt like I missed it in the right spots today.  Had a solo bogey on a tough hole [11].  Actually hit a good shot in there then missed the putt.”

“Yeah, I’m excited about the start to this week.  I’m excited about how last week went and kind of riding the momentum.  I’m going to give it my all these last few days because there is a break after that…”

Almost as impressive was part-time superstar, Steve Stricker, who is T2 without a bogey on the card. Joining him were Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler, and defending champion, Zach Johnson. Stricker was pleased: 

“It’s been three months since I played, so I really didn’t know what to expect.  But it was a good round, good way to start the tournament.”

“Didn’t strike it great all the way around, but hit some nice quality shots. I putted it nicely.  Got it up and down a few times when I had to to keep the round going.  Didn’t get into too much trouble, and like I said, made some nice putts.”

Although they had the advantage of some tees moved up, the consensus seems identical to last week’s Australian Golf Club: it’s a really hard golf course.

Johnson’s day began pretty ingloriously; he bogeyed 2, 3, and 4, which actually matched up pretty closely with his efforts earlier in the week to reduce expectations. He had only played his home game at McGladrey where he missed the cut and two Monday corporate outings. But finally he made what he called “a nice bogey” on 4:

“It’s not easy.  The greens right now, I was talking to (indiscernible).  Those guys, they were rolling it 12.5.  That was when we teed off.  My guess is they’re probably pushing 13 now.  A lot of undulations. You have to pay attention to the wind.”

“But it’s just not easy.  You can’t go to the sleep on this golf course.”

“Yeah, I didn’t have many expectations going in.  I had a good range session which kind of felt nice.  Yeah, today was a day of just going out there and having fun and free wheeling it, especially with the start I had.”

“I still felt good even after 3‑over through four holes.  I made a nice bogey on 4 and that’s what kind of got me going.”

And ignited the fuse to a great turnaround in his round:

“Yeah, I mean, after that I made a lot of birdies [8].  I didn’t miss a green.  I don’t think I missed maybe one fairway.  A lot of positives.”

“So I just had a lot of great opportunities.  Missed about an 8‑ to 10‑footer for eagle.  You know, [missed] some putts, too.  So you got to look at it — two ways to look at it.  But I just put myself in a position to make putts.”

“I got the lines going and really did some good work with my putter the last few days.  Fortunately it’s paid off.”

Evidently, because it was such a dramatic comeback — perhaps even miraculous — he was asked if his “spiritual beliefs” helped him in competition:

“Well, you know, in competition, it’s the perspective you have on things.  As a Christian, the way I see it, I have been given an opportunity to play a game — and it is a game — play a sport for a living.  Take it as anything more than that then things kind of go askew.”

“If anything, it takes pressure off.  I shouldn’t make the game or the sport or my profession or my vocation any bigger than what it should be.  I want to give it my all because I know it’s my responsibility and I’ve been given, I guess you would say, a moderate talent to do it, so I’m going to take advantage of that.”

“Really, it just comes down to perspective.”

That line of questioning apparently pricked the memory of the questioner and he asked if Johnson thought “a higher power” had helped him out on the 18th hole at last year’s tournament at Sherwood Country Club. That was the one where he stone-cold shanked his approach shot into the pond fronting the green and then made his 58-yard shot from the drop area for a par. That got him into a one-hole playoff with Tiger which he won.

“Well, I don’t know if I necessarily believe in that.  I do believe that a lot of practice and fortuitous bounces and I guess you’d say shots or putts.  You know, the way I look at it, I hit two of the most fluke shots back to back.”

“That being said, I mean, you still got to get over one shot, whether it was good or bad, to get to the next shot.  I don’t know if that’s [God] speaking or not.  I don’t really look at it that way.  I mean, bottom line is I don’t think he cares if I shoot 50 or 28.”

Finally, speaking of Tiger, if Spieth was the most impressive at the top of the leaderboard, Tiger Woods was as surprising at the bottom. At 5-over after some disastrous short game shots, Woods is still trying to talk himself into getting into the mix by Sunday.

One reporter asserted that his 77 had to be one of the worst rounds he’d ever shot on his former home course:

“[Laughing] I shot 80 a bunch of times here actually.  Usually when it’s a cold north wind and it’s about 30 out, but not like this.  Today was weird.”

“I didn’t feel like I did that bad.  Short game was awful.  Didn’t make anything.”

“But I missed it a few times on the front nine on the wrong side, just sides you can’t miss it on, like on 2.”

“But it was just one of those days where really nothing went my way.  Hit two of the best shots I could possibly hit on [the par-5] 13 and I walk away with a 6.”

But he was optimistic about the quality of some of his shots:

“Shot patterns were fantastic.  And as I think all of you saw, I got my power back and I got my speed back.  It’s nice to be able to start launching it again.  That’s a very good sign.”

And still optimistic about his chances. As these words come out of his mouth, you can almost see him bringing them to life as he speaks:

“Well, I got three more days.  You know, right now I’m 11 back and possibly more than that the way Jordan is playing.  I got three more days, and hopefully if I can get to under par for the tournament after tomorrow, and then hopefully put together a really good weekend.”

“At least get myself back in there somehow, I just need to shoot a low one tomorrow to at least have a chance come the weekend.”

I would not be surprised if he had a very good round on Friday. So often the staggering completion of a very bad round focuses your thinking about what you’re doing in a way that you are unable to during the round.

Tiger, always a reason to watch.

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