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March 17 2013

8:46 PM

Spieth nets special membership

By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Jordan Spieth can go home and catch his breath now. And start making plans for an extended PGA TOUR stay.

With his tie for seventh at the Tampa Bay Championship presented by EverBank, Spieth now has the option to join the TOUR as a special temporary member for the rest of the season. If he does so, the 19-year-old Spieth would be the youngest to achieve that status by cashing in his sponsor exemptions.

“I’m just extremely happy,” he said after Sunday’s 1-under-par 70. “It’s nice to actually have a schedule to plot out and know where I’m going to be a couple of weeks in advance.”

After last week’s runner-up finish at the Puerto Rico Open presented by seepuertorico.com, Spieth came to Innisbrook Resort needing just $101,295 to bring his earnings equal to No. 150 on last year’s money list. He cleared that hurdle with more than $47,000 to spare.

Not that there weren’t some nervous moments. Knocked back by bogeys at Nos. 12 and 13, Spieth stood in a tie for 14th as he entered the Copperhead layout’s closing three-hole “Snake Pit.”

“The only time I felt nervous was those last few holes, just trying to get a birdie,” he said.

It finally came at the par-3 17th, and not by the conventional manner. From greenside rough, the Texan’s high flop shot touched down on the putting surface and ran into the hole as a huge roar went up.

“That was one of the coolest shots I’ve ever hit,” Spieth said. “That’s as loud as it gets here -- makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck.”

Spieth still had to work his way through No. 18, with its tight fairway and a spine down the middle of its green. After his approach shot landed in a greenside bunker, he blasted to 6 feet and drained the putt.

“I was nervous over that putt,” he said, “but I took it back smooth and it went in the hole.”

It capped a magical four-week odyssey for Spieth, who began his journey with a trip to Panama and his eye on earning Web.com Tour status. After top-10 finishes there and in Colombia, he took an exemption to Puerto Rico – a move that changed his course.

“I’m very fortunate to have made the right decision down there in Bogotá,” he said.

By way of comparison, Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa parlayed special temporary status into 18 starts last season. Spieth already has starts lined up at the Shell Houston Open (thanks to his top 10 at Innisbrook) and Valero Texas Open, along with the HP Byron Nelson Championship in May.

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