Sunday at Kapalua: Spieth came, he saw, he conquered
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

There was really never a doubt — at least from the media — that Jordan Spieth wouldn’t close out the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. After trailing Patrick Reed by one following the first round, Spieth started to run away from the field on Friday, building a four-stroke lead and then he separated himself even more, with a five-shot lead heading into Sunday.

In many of our minds, the tournament was over before the weekend started, but you know, THERE WAS A LOT OF GOLF LEFT. Sure, that’s true. For just about any other golfer on the planet, I’m not sure we would’ve crowned Spieth the champion so quickly, but it’s Jordan Spieth we’re talking about here. He doesn’t blow leads. He doesn’t make major mistakes. He knows when to take risks and when to play it safe. He has the rare combo of talent and smarts.

There was simply no chance he was going to blow this. Never a doubt. Easy to say that now, right? Well, we said it Friday and then again on Saturday (so there!).

Spieth shot a six-under 67 en route to his eight-shot rout and sent a clear message to his peers: it’s going to be hard to beat him when he’s on his game. He’s picked up right where he left off in 2015 when he won five times. He’s kicked off 2016 on a victorious note.

“We came out and did what we needed to do,” said Spieth. “It’s one thing to be in that position after yesterday, it’s another to actually kick out the demons, saying, if you don’t win this one tomorrow, it’s going to look really bad, after blowing a five shot lead. But it’s a possibility.

“In golf you get a couple bad breaks, shoot even par or 2-under, someone shoots 8-under. It’s possible on this course. So that all comes to mind and you got to flush it out and get into a rhythm.”

He’s far too humble.

Spieth felt like parring the first hole was huge for him. He missed his approach shot left of the green and then managed to get up-and-down, rolling in a four-footer. Meanwhile, his closest competitor and playing partner Brooks Koepka three-putted for bogey.

On the following hole, the par-3 2nd, Spieth set the tone, holing a 35-footer for birdie. He did have a brief moment of frustration, though, after he three-putted and failed to birdie the par-5 5th. He knew that Patrick Reed had birdied three of the first five and Koepka had rolled in three straight birdies, so he was slightly irked, slapping himself with his golf glove on the shuttle ride from the fifth green to the sixth tee. That was quickly quelled after his birdied the sixth, though.

“I just felt like I had threw two and a half shots away on 3, 4 and 5 with where I was positioned,” he said. “If you just throw one away and you make the short one on 3 or you just 2-putt 5, whatever, I mean it’s big there. You don’t want to give anybody up there — you don’t want to give Patrick ahead of us hope and that’s what I felt like I did at that time. But then the drive and the birdie on 6 was huge.”

Spieth always plays a little better when he’s upset with himself. He’s learned to channel his frustration into a positive manner. When you see him mad, you should expect him to bounce-back quickly. That’s just what we’ve learned and come to expect in the past year.

Spieth bogeyed the par-3 8th, but again, he answered with a birdie on no. 9. He added another by holing a 14-footer on no. 10 to start an excellent back nine. He started to realize that he had the win locked up and played conservatively off the tee on nos. 13 and 14 when he hit irons instead of driver. Well, he wanted to hit driver on 13, but his caddie Michael Greller talked him out of it. (Their strong relationship and preparedness deserves even more credit than it gets.)

“(I saw) the board right on 13 green,” he recalled. “So I two-putted there and I knew I had a five-shot lead at the time. And as long as I’m keeping the ball in play the last few holes, I knew I had locked that one up. I could hit 4-iron off the next tee, hit a wedge in. The tee shot on 15 sealed the deal. That’s the last chance of something going wrong.”

His goal, however, was to reach 30-under for the week, and he needed a birdie on the par-5 18th. While he hit a poor second shot — it wasn’t an easy one on the sidehill — he jokingly chalked it up to a “lay up.”

“I had a nice little sand wedge in and made birdie,” he said, with a little smile.

At the start of the week, he wouldn’t have surmised that he’d shoot 30-under. He thought perhaps the winning score would be closer to 20-under, like it had been in recent years, but ideal conditions lent to an easier course and Kapalua’s Plantation Course was there for the taking.

“I didn’t think I would shoot 30-under,” he said. “So that part surprised me. I figured winds would be up, greens would be quicker, where if you short sided you’re in a bit more trouble. And those six foot downhill sliders are significantly harder. I think they had to protect against winds that they weren’t expecting. It just never came. So it was just a perfect four days to play golf.”

Indeed. Even though Spieth took what he describes as “quite a bit” of time off during the short offseason, you wouldn’t have guessed it, as he looked like he was in major championship form at the first event of the year. Bad news for everyone else: Spieth is still working on a couple of things with his swing.

“I’m not just taking it back and through,” he said. “I’ve still got feelings in my swing throughout the week that I had. So we’ll continue to work on it.

“But my putter felt great which is huge to start your first tournament back and not really feel like you have to work much on putting, other than getting the speed down.

“We putted the ball great. Only missed a couple putts inside of really like 12 feet. Only missed a couple of them that I can think of. And that’s, and to make quite a few more outside of that, that’s nice.”

Scary. Good.

Let the comparisons to Tiger Woods begin. That’s inevitable and they are more than fair. With this win, Spieth has now won seven times on the PGA Tour at the ripe age of 22 years, 5 months and 14 days. He matches Tiger Woods for the same number of victories by a player 22 or younger.

No surprise, though — Spieth isn’t ready to openly discuss such comparisons.

“I just think it’s premature, but I’ll say that probably my entire career,” he said. “There’s just such an age gap that I understand there’s comparisons are going to be there. I hope they continue to be there, that means I’m still being in the same ballpark as he is.

“But at the same time I grew up watching. I know what he did and what — I just find it hard to believe that it can be matched. I know we’re in a position now where we’re actually maybe ahead of the curve age-wise. But, boy, it would be hard to believe I could be compared to him the entire course of a career. I hope that’s the case, but I’m certainly going to strive for it. But what he has done for the game of golf is something special and I just don’t feel I deserve to necessarily be compared to him right now, but maybe I do. I don’t know. Personally I don’t think so.”

But, similar to Tiger, Spieth’s focus is on the major championships.

“What he and Jack (Nicklaus) have done, it’s very difficult to fathom that being possible,” said Spieth. “But I’ve got enough chances, you know. Hopefully we get about 80 chances. That’s not right. Yeah, it might be right. More that than that, right? More than that.”

However, Spieth’s peers might disagree with him. At least with regard that when he has the lead, he’s not going to give it up.

“He’s not (going to let go of a lead),” said Brandt Snedeker, who finished T3. “Until he does it, I haven’t seen him do it yet. So until he does it, it’s going to be pretty hard. He’s such a great kid and does everything the right way.

“And when he gets out in front, he has the ability to hit quality golf shots, put the ball where you’re supposed to and not make any mistakes, which is really, really hard to do. That’s probably the most underrated thing he does and people don’t understand what he does — he just strings together so much quality golf and plays pretty stress-free. It’s impressive.”

Great point about not making mistakes from Snedeker. It really is underrated and let’s visit that topic with more depth soon.

Bill Haas had mixed feelings about Spieth’s “Tiger effect.” He agreed that there is the sense that Spieth isn’t going to let go of the lead, but also thinks that it’s not a fair comparison quite yet.

“Yeah, when he had a five-shot lead and he’s three-under (so far) today, so I think he’s playing pretty safe,” said Haas. “He’s playing better than everyone else, but I don’t think it’s the ‘Tiger effect’ until he wins 14 majors — he’s on pace. I think if he wins today, they said he ties Tiger for so many wins before the age of 23. Those are big numbers. Those are big deal things.”

Let the clubs do the talking…

Q. There’s been media and also some players that have suggested that it would be hard for you to have a 2016 like 2015. Is this the best response you’ve got?
JORDAN SPIETH: Yeah. Yeah. Do the talking with your clubs. Michael said on 18 fairway, he said, man, just way to make a statement. I thought that was cool. I mean, it’s not what I’m going for, it’s not why I do what I do. But I don’t do it to talk back to any the players or people that believe that it’s not possible or he got a lucky year or something. Everyone has their opinions, it’s their right. But I still think it’s going to be very difficult to have a year like last year.

Q. Did Michael say that before or after you fatted —
JORDAN SPIETH: Right before. Right before.

(Laughter.) It was a great lay up. I had a nice little sand wedge in and made birdie. I made birdie, didn’t I?

The last word…

Perhaps the “Tiger effect” isn’t fair also because they appear to be very different people socially.

“Everybody likes (Spieth), so I think everybody pulls for him and wants him to do well,” said Haas. “What a great guy to have as number one in the world, but then again, he’s just beating you. It’s one of those things that nice guys can win and he’s doing it.”

Nice guys *can* finish first! I like that.