Per usual at Valspar, Jordan Spieth simply finds a way
5 Min Read
2015 champion opens in 4-under 67 at Innisbrook’s Copperhead
Written by Jeff Babineau @JeffBabz62
PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Watching Jordan Spieth play golf is like watching a straw hat tumble down a crowded beach in a 35 mph wind. It’s going to be eventful, and likely thrilling, even if you never do know where that hat is going to end up.
In Thursday’s opening round of the Valspar Championship, Spieth, a former champion here, produced a very Spieth-like result in a classic Spieth-like way. His driver wasn’t all that far off, but it certainly wasn’t on. He found only five of 13 fairways at Innisbrook Resort’s par-71 Copperhead Course, which spells trouble – for most, anyway. For Spieth, no problem. He just downshifted into his scrambling gear, put his putter in the microwave to warm it up, and went to work.
Here is the most basic fact about Jordan Spieth the golfer. He’s a fighter who finds a way to post a good score, regardless of what seems to be in the arsenal on a given day. He did so again on Thursday, producing a bogey-free round of 4-under 67, the unblemished tournament start for which he was seeking. Spieth has a special connection at Innisbrook, and he always will. He has career-shaping memories here. It was at the Copperhead a decade ago that he earned Special Temporary Membership on the PGA TOUR with a T7 finish, allowing him a runway to chase his full-time card.
Two years later, he jump-started a monster 2015 season (two victories and a runner-up at that year’s majors) with a playoff win at the Valspar.
Spieth hadn’t been here for a couple of years, missing once for COVID reasons and attending his brother’s wedding on tournament week last March. But he and the demanding Copperhead picked up where they left off. Lots of days, players will tell you their score was higher than it should have been. This one, his scrambling 67, was, well, just about right. It matched his lowest round at the Copperhead.
“I would have signed for 2 or 3 (under), as you kind of do around this place,” Spieth said. “Yeah, it was cold and then it got a little breezy, so it wasn't playing easy at all. With only hitting like 'five-ish' fairways, you do that around this place and shoot under par, it's pretty solid.
“I was able to sneak a couple extras with the putter today.”
The Copperhead is a pure ball-striker’s venue, and when that part of the game is off for players, the course can be quite punishing. Ryan Brehm (66) complimented the Copperhead on Thursday for its ability to keep some of the best golfers on the planet uncomfortable. Brehm was helped to his score by an ace at his penultimate hole (17). Stephen Jaeger had the model day that players strive to have at Copperhead, using a fairways-and-greens recipe to give himself plenty of chances, and eased his way to a 66.
“If you don't hit the fairways and you're in the rough and you're kind of scrambling all day long, it's going to be a long day,” Jaeger said. “So I'm happy I kind of got an ‘easy’ one today, and I've got three more long days, so you never know.”
Spieth turned what might have been a long day into a gem. There were lots of small bonuses he sprinkled in along the way, as he never moved backwards. There was the three-birdie run starting at No. 14, his fifth hole of the day, which he capped off with a very unexpected birdie from 57 feet at the 16th hole, the start of the daunting Snake Pit. There was his perfect 6-for-6 in scrambling, making some nice, mid-range 4- and 8-footers to save pars and stay on track.
Jordan Spieth rolls in 57-footer for birdie at Valspar
There was only one birdie across his final nine holes (Copperhead’s front nine), but Spieth, who has been looking for a spark to get his season going, made sure it was memorable.
Poor drive sprayed right into the trees at the 446-yard sixth; good break to even have a shot to the green from 122 yards (with a tree in his way, he couldn’t consider going at the flag), playing safely to it left; and then a 31-footer for birdie-3, center-cut. It was like getting a Christmas bonus check in October.
Jordan Spieth pours in 31-foot birdie putt at Valspar
Out of the fire, again ... Spieth, a 13-time champion and three-time major champion, just has that knack for the unexpected, displaying a penchant for turning potential trouble into the spectacular. It leaves fans both shaking their heads ... and craving to see more.
“I mean, when I struck the tee ball (at 6), it was a crapshoot,” Spieth said. “... And making a putt that range, you can do all the things right and you’ve still got to find the hole. There are a lot of variables from that distance, so pretty fortunate to escape with a 3. I didn't really have a shot at the hole there, but I told Michael (Greller, his caddie), if I walk up and I have any form of a swing (for his second shot), I'll be happy. So there was no complaining.”
No complaints. Spieth made more than 147 feet of putts on his day, which will lead a player to some birdies. There were parts to tighten up in his game, sure, but bogey-free on Thursday at Innisbrook was something very rare and special. It was as if Jordan Spieth and the Copperhead had never been apart.