Fan favorite Jordan Spieth seeks another win at Charles Schwab Challenge
5 Min Read
Written by Sean Martin @PGATOURSMartin
Jordan Spieth leads by one after Round 3 at Charles Schwab
FORT WORTH, Texas – The hill around Colonial’s 13th green is one of the popular gathering spots at the Charles Schwab Challenge. The grassy slope and a large grandstand form an amphitheater around the 159-yard par-3 that is guarded by water.
Jordan Spieth hit a pitching wedge to 10 feet there Saturday, setting off a loud cheer from the partisan patrons of Fort Worth. Some expressed their appreciation by standing and applauding as he walked the narrow path toward the putting surface.
He lifted his putter in the air after his birdie putt fell, eliciting another cheer. And he did it once more after retrieving his ball from the hole. Some chanted “JOR-DAN! JOR-DAN!” as he walked off the green. But after riling up the crowd, Spieth tried to quickly regain his focus. He stared at the ground just in front of his feet as he walked to the 14th tee, drowning out the noise around him.
That birdie gave him a two-shot lead over playing partner Jason Kokrak. Spieth played the final five holes in 2 under – including another crowd-pleasing birdie at 18 – but all that did was keep a charging Kokrak at bay. He birdied three of the final five holes to pull within one stroke of Spieth entering the final round.
Spieth and Kokrak made seven birdies and no bogeys on the back nine Saturday to separate themselves from the field. Spieth is at 15-under 195 (63-66-66), while Kokrak is 14 under par (65-65-66). The next-closest competitor is Sergio Garcia, who’s celebrating the 20th anniversary of his win here. He’s 10 under par. The two players tied for fourth – Ian Poulter and Sebastian Munoz – trail by seven.
Few courses fit Spieth better than this classic layout in Fort Worth. He won here in 2016 and has two runners-up. He’s finished outside the top 15 just once in eight appearances here.
The two players in the final group, Spieth and Kokrak, are each trying to become the third player to win multiple times this season, as well. Spieth is seeking a second title in Texas after winning last month’s Valero Texas Open to snap a winless streak that lasted nearly four years. Kokrak, 36, earned his first title in the CJ CUP @ SHADOW CREEK.
“I walked off the (13th) green and I was like, ‘Well, I'm definitely not the favorite here this week,’ Kokrak said. “He's a Texas guy. I'm an Ohio guy. It's fun. The crowds are crazy. But it's fun to have a local kid and play well and him be in the last group, and I'd be more than happy to spoil it for him tomorrow.”
Tickets to this year’s Charles Schwab Challenge include all-you-can-eat food and drink. The unlimited refreshments have undoubtedly added some enthusiasm to the crowds pulling for the kid who grew up next door in Dallas. Their cheers provide a stark contrast to last year’s Charles Schwab Challenge, which was the first event after the TOUR’s 91-day hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic. There were no fans on-site, though some watched from the streets that surround Colonial.
“What a difference a year makes,” Spieth said.
The same can be said about his game. He entered the final round of last year’s Charles Schwab Challenge in second place, just one shot off the lead. He was still in the midst of his winless drought and his swing changes struggled to hold up under pressure. He shot a final-round 71 to finish 10th. He finished 107th in last year’s FedExCup, the worst season of his career.
Spieth, who has seven top-10s this season, arrived at Colonial ranked ninth in the this season’s standings. The 2015 FedExCup champion could overtake the top spot with a win Sunday.
Spieth’s ball-striking has been a strength this season. His rejuvenated iron play has been the key to his success this spring. He fought it a bit Saturday, though. He made his first bogey of the week at the fifth hole but rebounded with a birdie at the next. Another bogey at 8 was followed by a good par save at the ninth hole, where he wedged to 12 feet after punching out of the trees.
“That was rather big for me to make the turn at 1 under feeling like I had got away with a couple,” he said.
He shot a bogey-free 32 on the back nine but it was evident that he was trying to figure things out. He was rehearsing swings walking down the fairway and on the putting green and after hitting his shots. He would take the club to the top with a bent left elbow, then drop the shaft on his right shoulder to mimic the feel of “shallowing out” in the transition.
“I think it was just one of those days where I made one not-so-good swing and then I was just protecting against some stuff,” he said. Spieth has always been an effective scrambler, though, and he changed his gameplan to make sure he missed fairways in the proper spots. Managing his misses allowed him to hit 14 greens Saturday despite hitting just five fairways.
He’s sixth in greens hit (40 of 54) and 10th in Strokes Gained: Approach (+4.15) this week, compared to 61st in fairways hit (20 of 42). Spieth’s putter is often a strong suit, as well, and that’s especially true on the relatively flat and smooth bentgrass surfaces of Colonial. He leads the field in Strokes Gained: Putting, making seven of the 11 putts (64%) he’s faced from 10-15 feet.
By shooting 66 on a day when he was uncomfortable with his game, Spieth made Sunday’s job easier. Kokrak – a player who Spieth said “plays with a lot of confidence” – is the only player within four shots of him.
“Fortunately, I can control my own destiny,” Spieth said. “That's obviously what you want, when you start on Thursday, it's teeing off Sunday with a chance to control what you can.”
Sean Martin manages PGATOUR.COM’s staff of writers as the Lead, Editorial. He covered all levels of competitive golf at Golfweek Magazine for seven years, including tournaments on four continents, before coming to the PGA TOUR in 2013. Follow Sean Martin on Twitter.