AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Jordan Spieth was caught in such a whirlwind after winning the Masters eight years ago, whether it was winging his way to New York for television appearances or throwing out the first pitch at a Texas Rangers game, that he never bothered to find a tailor for his green jacket.
Leave it to Augusta National, where every piece of the property is finely tailored, to take care of such details.
“I just had it everywhere and I never got it fixed,” Spieth said Monday, “and I think they have done it since here, because the arms certainly fit a lot better. I left a little room just in case I put on a few pounds over the years.”
That’s some forward thinking.
Of course, a better solution would be to keep winning new ones.
There was a time when that seemed inevitable. Spieth was just 21 back in 2015, when he became the first wire-to-wire Masters champion since Ray Floyd nearly four decades earlier, tying Tiger Woods’ then-record of 18 under along the way. He went on to win the U.S. Open that summer, and everything portended greatness for a kid who fell in love with the game watching the Masters on TV and then racing out to the chipping green at Brookhaven Country Club.
Spieth kept winning, of course. Prestigious monuments, too, like the Tour Championship that fall and the Tournament of Champions the following January. A year later, Spieth won his third major at the British Open at Royal Birkdale.
Yet winning a second green jacket has been an exercise not in futility so much as frustration.
In 2016, he led from the first round until the back nine on Sunday, when he blew a five-shot lead by losing six shots to par over the first three holes. The coup de grace came at No. 12, the picturesque par-3 over Rae’s Creek in the back corner of the property, where Spieth hit not just his approach into the water but his next shot as well.
It was perhaps the lowest Spieth has ever felt at Augusta National, on the lowest spot on the course. The quadruple bogey cleared the way for Danny Willett, whose bogey-free final round earned him a green jacket instead.
In 2018, Spieth again led after the first round before fading on Friday and Saturday, and only a blistering final-round 64 got him within two shots of winner Patrick Reed. He matched that third-place finish with another two years ago, when he hung around the first page of the leaderboard but never threatened winner Hideki Matsuyama.
“When I look back on the times where I’ve had real legitimate chances, I look at the middle two rounds of 2018 — I really could have, should have won it that year,” Spieth said. “Like, I’ve backdoored some of those top finishes, and I’d love to get in the mix because I feel like right now, I feel better about my game than I’ve felt since probably 2017.”
It hasn’t been easy to reach this point.
Spieth would go through periods when his swing was out of whack, and his solution was to grind harder, and that would lead to more problems. So he would back off, and that would lead if not to more problems then at least different ones.
“I tried working really, really hard without really knowing what I was doing, and I think that put me more in a hole,” he said. “I got to the point where I was like, ‘OK, let’s figure this out. Stop trying the same thing and overworking it, thinking something is going to click and it’s all over.’ Instead, I started to really re-engineer backward what kind of made me so successful.”
It’s been a process, Spieth said, yet the progress was evident last year at Augusta. He was 1 under in his second round, and 1 over for the championship, before a triple bogey at No. 12 — he splashed another shot into Rae’s Creek — and a double bogey at the 18th caused him to miss the cut at the Masters for the first time.
The next week, Spieth won the RBC Heritage in a playoff with Patrick Cantlay.
The good results kept coming, if not the wins: second at the Byron Nelson, top 10 at the British Open at St. Andrews, sixth earlier this year at the Phoenix Open, fourth at Bay Hill and third at the Valspar Championship.
Those results are why oddsmakers put him behind only defending champion Scottie Scheffler, four-time major winner Rory McIlroy — still needing the Masters for his career slam — and major winner Jon Rahm heading into Thursday’s opening round.
And why Spieth would be wise to have a tailor on standby come Sunday.
“It’s exciting,” he said, “because when I go to the range, I’m confident by the end of the day I know what to improve. That seems like it would be standard every day for a golfer, but there were a lot of years in a row where I would go to the course and I would be uncertain if I would come out that day feeling better or worse. That’s tough to go into.”
“You know,” Spieth added, “I don’t feel I have all the weapons right now. But I have enough, and I’m continuing to work on the ones that I don’t have, and I get a little better each day with them.”
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