20-year-olds who had no playing status on the PGA Tour at the start of the season aren’t supposed to win a tournament (he was still 19 at the time) — and nearly capture a second title if he hadn’t lost in a playoff — and secure eight top-10 finishes. That just doesn’t happen.
But Jordan Spieth isn’t your average 20-year-old rookie. Knowing Sunday was his final audition for U.S. captain Fred Couples to use one of his two wildcard picks on Spieth, he shot nine-under 62 — which included playing his last four holes five-under with an eagle on 18 — to surge up the leaderboard and finish tied for fourth at the Deutsche Bank Championshp.
“It was the round of my life so far,” said Spieth. “It really was. I shot a few 65s this year, and to be able to break the barrier, and be under par and keep it going, you know, it was a lot of fun. It was great to be playing alongside Phil and Harry (Harris English), both, you can’t really play with two better guys.”
Not bad timing to shoot the round of his career because you know Captain Couples was certainly watching (or at least checking the results). Couples will announce his two wildcard picks in a press conference on Wednesday.
“Yeah, I think so,” said Spieth when asked if he saw this as his last audition. “I know that they’re scoreboard watching up until the last minute. I don’t know what he’s thinking. I haven’t reached out to Freddie. I think that it’s going to be a really tough decision. And I think that he’s got the right voices helping him out.
“In my mind the only way to make a statement was play great golf the last few weeks. And I feel really solid about today’s round, going forward into the next event. And whatever happens on Wednesday, happens on Wednesday, but I’m just I’m very, very happy with today and that’s kind of what’s on my mind right now.”
He certainly came through in the clutch, especially today. Obviously, there are a number of veterans who just missed out on automatic berths — Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Jim Furyk, to name a few — but Spieth would add a spark to the team, and it wouldn’t hurt for him to get some practice in the match play format and comfortable with the guys on the team if he makes next year’s Ryder Cup team.
What would it mean to Spieth to receive the coveted captain’s pick?
“It would be the greatest honor I’ve ever had as a golfer,” he said. “Like I said earlier, there’s just so many great players that are ahead of me in the standings, and in consideration, either way I’m very patriotic, I love rooting for the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup teams, so I’ll pull hard either way. But it would definitely be a tremendous honor to make the squad.”
When you talk to Spieth, it’s hard to remember he’s only 20 because he carries himself with poise and maturity. Plus, he’s playing well beyond his years. Last year, he was knocked out at the second stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School and relied on sponsor’s exemptions mostly (and his top 10 finishes got him in automatically into the event the following week). Spieth admits he’s exceeded his own expectations.
“At the beginning of the year I would have been happy with playing in the Web.com playoffs, right now,” he said. “I’m trying to earn my PGA Tour card. One of my goals has been exceeded so I’m going to be just fine either way. It would be a dream come true for me (to make the Presidents Cup team).
“You guys know the players. You have done the research, you know who’s up there, 11, 12, 13 on the list. And those guys are pretty stout. I don’t have any expectations, whatsoever. It’s been on my mind a little bit. But I just want to play really hard.”
On a different note, Spieth is now 10th in the FedExCup points standings, which basically means he’s likely head to the Tour Championship.
I didn’t make it my first year, I missed it by one or two,” said Rickie Fowler, 24, during The Barclays. “He’s pretty much locked for the Tour Championship. It took me a few years to make it and I finally did last year.”
Let’s take a look at Spieth’s best finishes this season: T2 Puerto Rico Open, T7 Tampa Bay Championship, T9 RBC Heritage, T7 Crowne Plaza Invitational, 6 AT&T National, WIN John Deere Classic, 2 Wyndham Championship (lost in playoff), and T4 this week at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
If that’s not enough to make Spieth’s case to receive a captain’s pick, he’s come in the clutch several occasions. At the Wyndham Championship, Patrick Reed defeated Spieth with a birdie on the second extra hole, but on the first playoff hole, Spieth drained a 26-footer to save par and stay alive.
At the John Deere Classic in July, Spieth started the final round six shots back, but birdied five of the last six. The last was a 44-foot bunker shot for birdie-3 that put him into a playoff that he eventually won.
“I’m doing the right things, said Spieth. “I’m accomplishing what I want to accomplish at the start of each round. And whether that’s as good or good enough for his choice is just his decision. It’s not my call. I feel very confident with where my golf game is at. I love the format and I’ve always loved watching all Presidents Cups and Ryder Cup teams. It’s my favorite event to watch; that and the Masters.
The semi-retired Steve Stricker was ranked 11th in the Presidents Cup points standings heading into the Deutsche Bank Championship. He needed at least a top finish to get overtake the guys ahead of him and earn an automatic berth. Stricker really, really wanted to make the team (perhaps he wants some redemption after last year’s disappointing performance at the Ryder Cup) and since he’s semi-retired, this might be one of his last — if not last — team events of his career.
After skipping The Barclays last week, Stricker knew he had his work cut out for him and he did exactly what he needed to do and some. The 46-year-old veteran closed with a four-under 67, including two birdies on the last two holes, to post 20-under for the tournament and place runner-up to Henrik Stenson.
He was the only player to move inside the top 10 in the Presidents Cup standings this week (9th), while Webb Simpson fell out of the top 10.
“It was a good week,’ said Stricker. “I came here trying to get one of those last few spots on the team, knowing that I needed to play well. I had texted Freddie earlier in the week, I didn’t want one of his spots as a pick, I wanted to make the team on my own.
“So I had great incentive, great motivation to play well this week. I’m excited to be part of another team and represent the USA at Muirfield (Village).”
While Stricker will come out of semi-retirement once more before the Presidents Cup and play in the BMW Championship, the third leg of the FedExCup Playoffs, the Tour Championship is still up in the air.
“I’m not sure about Atlanta yet,” he said. “I’ve had this hunting trip scheduled all year. I know it sounds a little strange, but I’m going to wait and see. I’m going to see how I play in Chicago.
“We’re supposed to leave Monday after Chicago. They’ve pushed this trip back for me a couple of days so I could play in Chicago. So I’d like to do both. But it’s not possible.”
In other words, $10 million reasons aren’t enough for Stricker to change his plans.
On the International side, Graham DeLaet, who moved up to No. 5 in the FedExCup standings, placed solo third and locked up his first appearance on the Presidents Cup team. He will join Mike Weir as the only Canadians to compete on a Presidents Cup team.
Here are the players who earned automatic berths on the U.S. and International teams for the Presidents Cup: