Jordan Spieth, who entered the third round of the U.S. Open tied for the 36-hole lead, posted a somewhat frustrating one-over 71, but at four-under for the championship he’ll head into Sunday in a similar position for the second straight major. The Masters champion holds a four-way share of the 54-hole lead with Dustin Johnson, Jason Day and Branden Grace.
More important, Spieth has a chance to stamp his place in history (again) and become the first player since Tiger Woods in 2002 to win the Masters and the U.S. Open in the same year, not to mention complete half of the career grand slam. That’s not all. Spieth is also attempting to become the youngest champion of this major since Bobby Jones in 1923, along with the youngest to win two majors since Gene Sarazen in 1922.
However, Spieth was clearly exasperated during and after the third round at Chambers Bay. He got off to a hot start, rolling in long birdie putts on nos. 2 and 3 to get to seven-under for the tournament. Then, he followed those with back-to-back bogeys, including a three-putt on no. 4. He three-jacked again on no. 7.
“I knew that even par was a really good score starting the day, but when I get to 7-under for the tournament I don’t want to finish at 4-under, no matter where you’re playing,” said Spieth. “The course was still gettable enough to where I could have played even par from that 4th hole on. Just kind of didn’t drive the ball extremely well. And then when I had my opportunities I had two eagle putts that I three-putted.”
Spieth, who is considered one of the best putters on tour, had four three-putts in the third round. Now, he understands that’s going to happen at Chambers Bay, especially with the poor conditioning of the greens, but what frustrated him was that the ones on nos. 7 and 16 were “unforced.”
“Those were basic 2-putts,” said the world no. 2. “I’ll two-putt the majority of the time. (On) 4 I hit it right onto the part of the green, the worse spot on the course on the greens, where it feels like it’s going to be fast, but you’re putting off of kind of dirt to start the putt. So you think it’s going to be fast. But I did the same thing, I had the same putt the first round, I left it 6 feet short, I did the same thing today.
“It just looks speedy and it’s not. But I won’t have that putt coming back down to the front of the green tomorrow. So I don’t count that in my 60-yard putt, 40-yard putt on 12. I would like to have gotten closer, but that’s so hard from there. I do need to improve, though, I need to have a little better speed control. I made a lot of second putts from the ranges of 2 to 8 feet this week, and even a couple beyond that. And if I can lower that number to a good 3-foot circle it’s going to make a huge difference.”
Spieth missed a number of putts inside eight feet — the kind that he normally makes. He explained in more detail the trouble with controlling the speed on these greens.
“With the way the greens sped up today and the way they were feeling, we called it an Augusta putt, where a lot of times on the short putts you have to feed it outside the hole and just kind of die it in,” said Spieth. “And I have a great feel on those kind of putts. I missed them all in the same place today because out here even though it seems like they’re going to be wicked fast off the bat and take a consistent break, you have to firm them because they hit a halting point and dive on almost like a 90 degree angle.
“It’s tricky because of the gravel, poa annua, fescue, whatever it is on these greens that are drying up, they putt a little different on those shorter putts. And I didn’t have many of the downhill ones the first two days. So today I was able to see that. But it’s tough to trust hitting those any harder than I am, because if it misses and you hit it any firmer, you’re going to have one that’s firmer coming back. They’re tough.”
(Aside: I love it when Spieth gets feisty — he’s been an amazing quote the last couple of days. Some may have expected him to become more “closed off” after winning the Masters, but I think it’s had the opposite effect. Now that he’s a Masters champion, it appears like he feels more comfortable voicing his opinion, even if it’s not the “PC” thing to say. It makes sense because he has real “street cred” now as a major winner. I love the Jordan Spieth we’ve heard from this week and hope it continues.)
Spieth knows he’ll need to do a better job of controlling his emotions and having mental fortitude. He let a few things get to him on Saturday, such as an unfortunate bounce that his tee shot took on the par-5 8th. After hitting what appeared to be a perfect drive up the left side of the fairway, Spieth walked up to find his ball in the rough. Reed had pushed his drive right, but somehow managed to stay in the fairway.
“I was appalled, was the word I used,” said Spieth, laughing. “I couldn’t place the drive any better…I couldn’t have hit a better tee shot. I thought my ball was in the middle of the fairway and when I saw it on the right edge, I said, Mike, I don’t know how it got over the right edge. And then we walked up and it was Patrick’s. Then I was hitting in the rough and there was a clump of grass behind (my ball). This is a joke. Right after a three-putt. So that didn’t add to my excitement.
“I was very frustrated at the time because if it’s in the fairway I’ve got a 3-iron into that green and the majority of the time that would lead to a birdie with a funnel into the hole. Instead I ended up in a pretty good position to make birdie, anyways. But that second shot I hit was really a good shot with that 3-iron with that lie to get it up near the green and be able to feed it in.”
He can only hope he gets the right bounces on Sunday and that he got his “bad” round out of the way, which isn’t the worst thing in the world as he contained the damage to posting one-over.
At the ripe age of 21, Spieth, who won the Masters by four shots and set or tied multiple records, knows how to close the deal. He’s shown that he learns quickly from his past mistakes and draws from the experiences in positive ways.
“I feel like we have a winning formula to close the deal in a major championship, whether that was the most recent major or it was 20 years ago, we’ve still done it as a team,” said Spieth. “We know the formula and that’s the only impact it’s going to have as far as consecutive ones, that’s just something I think to be proud of after the fact, if I can get the job done tomorrow. But that’s going to have no bearing when I tee it up. It’s just going to be how can I tackle Chambers Bay.”
Of the four players tied for the 54-hole lead, Spieth is not only the youngest, but more important, he’s the lone major champion among his co-leaders.
“I think as I sleep on it and wake up there will certainly be some nerves,” he said. “It’s not like I’m a veteran at this by any means. But by the time we tee off, if I can convince myself that I’m free rolling, I’ve got one of these, and the other guys are trying to chase their first. I know how hard it is to chase your first and close it out.”