He’s won all his majors from the front but Jordan Spieth now faces a test of his mental strength after a grinding, one over par 72 left him playing catch up at Quail Hollow.
The 24-year old Texan, who is bidding to become the youngest winner of the career Grand Slam, three-putted three times and had 32 putts in an epic battle with the man-sized Charlotte track to trail clubhouse leader Thorbjorn Olesen by five shots.
When it comes to winning majors, he has never had to battle his way back from a poor to average start.
After all, opened with a 64 when he won the 2015 Masters, a 68 at that year’s US Open and a 65 at Royal Birkdale two weeks ago.
Now, he needs a sub par second round to feel like he’s in the mix.
“Historically, I’m pretty solid with the lead,” he said. “So that was kind of the goal was to grab the lead.
“It’s much easier when you are on the front page of the leaderboard than it is coming from behind.
“Given it’s the first round, I know I’m still in it but I know that tomorrow’s round becomes that much more important to work my way [up] and stay in it.
“I’ve got to make up ground. If I’m five back at the start of the day, I’ve got to be less than five back after Friday to really feel like I can play the way this golf course needs to be played and still be able to win.”
Pace putting was Spieth’s downfall yesterday, and it was interesting to hear him speak about Olympian Michael Phelps, who followed him for most of the round.
The pair had dinner recently and “talked through a lot of things that I will probably just keep to myself.”
But he did concede that they had spoken about “mental approach and preparation” and it was that mental toughness that emerged again yesterday when he was three over par with just three holes to play but finished birdie-birdie-par to get around in level fours.
His recovery began at the 543-yard, par-four seventh, where he hit a perfect fade off the bunkers on the left, then floated a hybrid to 33 feet and made the putt.
“It was pretty impressive,” said Brooks Koepka, who fired a three-under par 68 to match Gary Woodland and Web.com Tour graduate Grayson Murray, a shot behind
“He’s a grinder. It’s impressive to watch him play. He picks apart a golf course really, really well. He’s what, 24, 25? That’s a lot of maturity. It’s fun to see.”
Spieth was one under par after chipping close to set up a birdie four at the 15th.
But he bogeyed the 16th, then dropped three shots in six holes after the turn to slip to three over before following that 33 footer at the seventh with a pitch to two feet at the 349-yard eighth.
“It was just the putter,” said Spieth. “Everything else was fine. I bailed on my two bunker shots I had today which was frustrating. It was just the bunker play and the greens.
“I had a hybrid into seven that made that stress-free birdie. And I hit a fantastic pitch into eight — extremely solid shots that led to very stress-free birdies.
“I needed those from short range because it seemed like the lid was on today. I burned a lot of edges.”
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