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May 25 2011

7:53 PM

What will Spieth do for an encore?

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Dallas teenager Jordan Spieth was a huge favorite last year at TPC Four Seasons Resort.

By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM

IRVING, Texas -- A year ago as a 16-year-old high school junior, he captured the fancy of the entire golf world by making the cut at the HP Byron Nelson Championship, then challenging for the lead late on Sunday and eventually finishing tied for 16th -- all the while trying to find time between rounds to study for final exams.

This week, Jordan Spieth goes into his second start at the HP Byron Nelson as a bigger, stronger and better golfer. He's done with his classes, so he's been able to put in more practice time for the tournament.

But he does have one conflict that no one else in this week's field must face -- his graduation ceremony from Jesuit College Preparatory School is scheduled for Saturday at 4 p.m. local time. As much as he'd like to be with his friends, Spieth would rather be on the TPC Four Seasons Resort course with the leaders after making the cut the previous day.

"Hopefully, I'm playing in the afternoon on Saturday," Spieth said. "It's pretty interesting -- I don't think many have had that dilemma before. But it will be fun."

It was certainly fun last year when the amateur Spieth emerged as one of the year's top stories in golf, shooting 68-69 in the first two rounds to become the sixth youngest player to ever make the cut at a PGA TOUR event. His galleries were huge, the locals flocking to see whether the kid could continue to hold his own against the pros.

After shooting 69 in the third round, Spieth found himself tied for seventh going into the final 18 holes. He remained in contention until the 15th hole, when he suffered a double bogey. It was quite a thrill ride, one that those who attended last year's event will never forget.

"Last year was unbelievable," Spieth said. "It didn't sink in until afterwards. But you know, it should be bigger crowds to start this year, I've been told."

Part of Spieth's appeal last year was his impressive composure and poise as he dealt with the growing galleries and increased media demands each day. Another part of his appeal was his insistence that he wasn't just a novelty act, but someone who had serious aspirations to win -- and then showed us why.

Should he find himself again making a run this week, it wouldn't be any less impressive even if the story isn't as new. After all, he's still about three months away from his 18th birthday -- and just a few weeks removed from winning a state high school title. He doesn't begin his college career at the University of Texas until this fall.

Don't be surprised if he does make more noise this week. He probably knows the course as well as anyone. His short game remains his strength. And he's 20 pounds heavier, giving him a stable base and consistency in his swing.

Plus, he can draw upon last year's appearance in this event, as well as his start three weeks later at last year's FedEx St. Jude Classic when he again nearly made the cut, just missing by a stroke.

"I think experience is really going to help me settle in a little earlier and not have to fight the nerves or the adrenaline and kind of be able to be relaxed out there," he said.

If Spieth is indeed relaxed this week and performs like he did last year, well, perhaps someone can tape Jesuit's graduation ceremony for him. Unless, of course, the rest of his senior class is also at the course, cheering him on.


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