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Jordan Spieth rides intangibles to RBC Heritage comeback victory
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HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA - APRIL 17: Jordan Spieth poses with the trophy after winning the RBC Heritage in a playoff at Harbor Town Golf Links on April 17, 2022 in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Texan uses grit, new pre-shot routine to grind out 13th TOUR win
Written by Jim McCabe @PGATOUR
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – Such a beguiling combination of dynamics, this Jordan Spieth character.
You can’t take your eyes off him, because he’s saturated in grit and has a chance on every hole. You don’t love his chances to win, because the putter suddenly is not his friend.
Spieth’s newly adopted practice-shot routine, which displays similarities to that of Alex Noren, can be nervy to watch sometimes as well. But he remains in possession of those buttons that produce pure magic, and that is utterly uncanny.
He motions and talks. You think you just want him to hit the shot. Then he motions and talks some more and you realize, no, you don’t want Spieth to hit the shot until he motions and talks some more.
When all the numbers had been crunched at the conclusion of Sunday’s raucous and fun-filled RBC Heritage, Spieth had ranked No. 60 in Strokes Gained: Putting. He had three-putted for bogey at the 11th to fall three off the lead. He had missed birdie tries from 11 feet on the 15th and 14 feet on the 16th. Oh, and it still gnawed at him that he had carelessly and inexplicably waved at, and mishit, an 18-inch putt on the 18th hole Saturday.
An insurmountable number of obstacles, eh? Especially that inexcusable bogey Saturday that left him in shock.
“I knew that (hiccup) on 18 was going to cost me,” said Spieth, “and I hoped it did in a way, because if it didn’t, it would mean I just played a very average round today.”
Unfathomable, how so many things seemed to stack up against Spieth, to the point where he was where golfers never like to be – without control of the situation. “I needed a lot of things to go right,” he admitted. “It’s a bit of a surprise.”
A wild and maddening surprise is what it was, because from Patrick Cantlay, who appeared to have had the playoff in his control, to Shane Lowry, who made all-world par saves at Nos. 12 and 13 and owned a two-stroke lead walking to the 14th tee, to any number of other candidates (Harold Varner III, Erik van Rooyen, Sepp Straka), the winner appeared likely to be anyone other than Jordan Spieth.
Jordan Spieth’s up-and-down par from the bunker earns win at RBC Heritage
Bless the young Texan’s heart, he understood why sitting there as the playoff winner over Cantlay probably had fans a bit stunned.
“(There are those weeks) where you feel like you played good but not good enough to win, and I honestly felt like this was that week,” said Spieth, who at 28 won for the 13th time in his PGA TOUR career.
Not that Spieth hadn’t done a few gut-checks to give himself a chance, for he surely had. The early-round magic on the par-5s (he holed a bunker shot for eagle at the second and drained a 45-footer for eagle at the fifth) were fading quickly after Spieth had made a bad bogey at the ninth and the three-putt mishap at the 11th.
But he breathed life into his slim chances with a 12-footer for birdie at the 13th, then stuffed a 173-yard approach to 10 feet at No. 18, where the nightmare of Saturday didn’t repeat itself.
Spieth’s round of 5-under 66 put him in the clubhouse at 13-under 271 and oh, how he watched the pieces fall his way. Yes, he’d rather have had total control of things – all golfers want that – but the putter had betrayed him.
“The hole started to look small to me (Saturday). I was a bit shocked at where I was at Strokes Gained … that was pretty frustrating. I mean, I knew I wasn’t putting well, but it was certainly better than that showed.”
No, you don’t like to call on luck to turn your way, but Spieth knew he needed it to.
Lowry chipped into the water at the par-3 14th, made double bogey and helped.
Varner, the third-round leader, needed one more birdie to tie, but he finished with nine straight pars.
No shock that the coolest of them all, Cantlay, made an 8-footer at the 71st hole to tie Spieth, but it was a major shock at how things unfolded in the playoff.
“Patrick got unlucky,” conceded Spieth, whose playoff drive at the 18th was weak and short and his 204-yard approach bunkered. Advantage Cantlay, who had just a 9-iron in from about 170 yards and had feasted on the hole all week.
Not this time. Not on this day when Lady Luck was shining on Spieth. The ball not only found the greenside bunker, but it plugged. “Obviously,” sighed Cantlay after he bogeyed to lose, “it’s darn near impossible to get it close.”
Spieth from his juicy lie had gotten it close for an easy tap-in, which almost seemed to be part of his game plan all week. When the putter is stubborn, don’t despair; let the bunker shots and the pitch shots and the flop shots and the bump-and-runs off pine straw and between trees push you up the leaderboard.
Of course, there was time saved for a trip to the woodshed, and Spieth let himself have it over the way he thought he might have thrown away the tournament on the 18th hole Saturday.
“I was about as upset after the round yesterday as I've ever been in a golf tournament,” said Spieth. “There's just no excuse for those kind of brain-farts as a professional – to myself, but also to Michael (Greller, his caddie), who is working his butt off – to go out there and do that (when it) could have potentially affected the outcome of a tournament.”
Spieth shook his head but added in reference to his missed cut at last week’s Masters and a season that had previously been winless: “And I've done that a number of times on this stretch in the last four weeks.”
True, all of that. There have been some rough spots in 2021-22, but he remains in possession of the most plentiful supply of “it” – whatever “it” is – of anyone on TOUR.
Jim McCabe has covered golf since 1995, writing for The Boston Globe, Golfweek Magazine, and PGATOUR.COM. Follow Jim McCabe on Twitter.