It would appear to be an impossible reach for a 22-year-old, to go where only the greatest of the greats have gone. Successfully defend your Masters title? Only Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods have done that.
So where does the audacity come from to think Spieth should be in line to thrust himself into the Mount Rushmore of golfers? Well, perhaps from the reality he has already proven himself capable.
Consider, if you will, the list of players who have won the Masters and the US Open in the same calendar year: Nicklaus, Woods, Craig Wood, Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer.
Oh, and Spieth.
That’s right, Spieth last year captured the first two legs of the grand slam. At 21, no less. And then to make the story even more delectable, he came within a shot of getting himself into a four-way play-off at the Open Championship, then was in line to win the PGA Championship, only to be edged by Jason Day’s remarkable performance.
All in all, it was a brilliant and near-historic major championship season for Spieth, who could perhaps rest on his accomplishments. Except for the fact he is not wired that way — a reality that can be seen as his either his key ingredient or his albatross.
Ferociously competitive, Spieth in just three PGA Tour seasons has won seven times and propelled himself to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Ferociously competitive, Spieth on a number of occasions has let his emotions get away from him, much to his detriment. Famously, Spieth as a rookie played one of the coolest veterans you’ll find, Ernie Els, in the World Golf Championship Match Play and on several occasions outwardly demonstrated his frustrations.
Els later smiled and conceded “I knew I had him,” and indeed the big South African won the match.
Spieth went to Twitter the next day and apologised to fans for his behaviour. Not that it was awful; only because he knew it hindered his play.
For most of 2015, with things going as smoothly as a sail on a warm, summer’s day, Spieth hardly had to get disgusted with himself. Five victories, two of them majors. What’s not to like about that?
But after winning a limited-field tournament in Hawaii in early January, this fourth PGA Tour season has not exactly met with Spieth’s approval. If it weren’t bad enough that he missed the cut in Los Angeles, shooting a first-round 79 had him stomping and sulking. He went T-17 at a limited field WGC then opened with 76 at the Valspar Championship, where he was defending champ.
Like he did in his match with Els in 2013, Spieth caught a little backlash for a few of his outbursts, then he raised eyebrows following his T-18 finish by saying he and his caddie, Michael Greller, made poor decisions. Spieth insisted that it wasn’t personal, just that he felt Greller could do better, as could he.
The world of Twitter had great fodder and indeed, the tweets came rushing forth. Spieth tried to clarify, then he offered an apology, then he claimed that it was no big deal. Mostly, though, Spieth reminded the world that he was 22, that will make mistakes, that he will take ownership of his issues.
His passion to succeed, Spieth said, is more an internal struggle than an external one. And despite what others may say, Spieth gives him solid grades for improving his inner self.
“I’ve done a better job and I’ve kind of gotten over the external pressures,” he said. “It’s more the internal stuff that is trickier for me.”
Spieth didn’t deny he’s struggled in recent weeks. But he seems sure he’ll be fine here at the 80th Masters, back here at Augusta National. Why? Because when “I feel I’m giving strokes away, I make an aggressive play that’s unnecessary. That’s the kind of stuff that fortunately on this golf I (won’t do). I have such a knowledge of this golf course.”
Since Woods successfully defended his title in 2002, the best finish for a defending champion is Woods in 2006, when he was tied for third. But Phil Mickelson has failed three times, Bubba Watson twice and Adam Scott once, so clearly it must be considered to be long odds to win a second straight Masters.
Spieth is undeterred, however.
“My tools I have right now, I know I can beat everybody,” he said, flashing the uncanny confidence that has led him to finish T-2 and first in his only two Masters.
Then, a light seemed to go on and Spieth appeared to know he was letting his fire take over.
Bad move, so Spieth caught himself.
“That’s what has really has affected me recently. (But) I think this week I will really focus on dialing back on it.”
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