Golf - pga - Masters Tournament - 4/8/2021

The Masters: Inside Jordan Spieth's Long Road Back

5 days ago

By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist 

The hottest name coming into the Masters this week is a guy who most recently could be found on a slippery slope that looked set to take him out of the top 100, who hadn’t won in 45 months and whose juggernauting start to his golf career had long since faded to the back of fans’ minds.

How quickly things can change in sports. From Jordan Spieth, man of yesteryear to Jordan Spieth, Masters favorite, the narrative turned on its head in the space of a week.

Spieth, 27, doesn’t actually have the shortest odds when things tee off Thursday at Augusta National, but he’s darn close to it. FOX Bet has him at +1100, just behind Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau.

Yet there is no question who will have the most attention paid to him. After slipping further and further away from golf’s spotlight, all the way down to 92nd in the world ranking, Spieth’s victory last weekend at the Valero Texas Open thrust him squarely back to the fore.

"It has been a long time," he told reporters after his win.

It had been one of the most mystifying drop-offs in the game. Spieth, the kid who couldn’t miss, suddenly could, would and did. The smooth-striking, clutch-putting, unshakably confident product of Dallas, whose big-event moxie turned him into a lock for the Hall of Fame by the age of 23, then spent several years being just another player.

Spieth won his first Tour event at 19, and by 21, he had both a Masters runner-up finish and a famed green jacket to his name. He then gave the career Grand Slam a shake, adding the U.S. and British Opens to his résumé. The British – collected in part thanks to an audacious Sunday recovery shot on Royal Birkdale’s 13th hole in 2017 – seemed to point to more greatness to come.

In reality, it was his last tournament win for a long, long time — until the drought was finally broken last Sunday.

"There’s peaks and valleys in this sport," Spieth said. "I never expected to go this long. Back then, in between wins, I took a lot more for granted than I should have. It’s very difficult to win out here, and I’ll certainly enjoy this one as much as I have any other."

It is easy to see why Spieth's victory in San Antonio sparked such excitement in the golf community. From the moment he arrived on Tour, his talent has never been in question, as he became swiftly identified as a player with the rare ability to not just contend at the top but also, if his game is on, dominate. For a while, he did.

In Texas, it was a test of nerve and character as well as of his swing. Being chased by Charley Hoffman, Spieth got himself over the line with a 6-under 66.

"Where Spieth goes from here — starting this week at Augusta National, a course that has been his playground — is now the preeminent storyline in golf," Golf Digest’s Joel Beall wrote.

When Spieth fell off, golf fans thought he would soon be back and kept assuming as much. Only recently, as the struggles drifted on and on and on, did that faith begin to waver. Now it has returned. Only time will tell if this revival sticks, but at least Spieth is being treated as if he was never out of the elite realm of the sport.

With recent form often being a strong predictor of Masters success, Spieth is right up there in the discussion as Thursday morning beckons. Furthermore, before he won the Masters in 2015, he finished second at the Valero and went in hot. Before his second Major, the 2015 U.S. Open, he tied for third at the Memorial. Ahead of that British victory, he was in the winner’s circle, triumphing in the Travelers.

And then … the slump.

"I think I've learned a lot of patience," Spieth said. "I probably spent a year of struggling, where I was forcing things, and it just made it worse. But it was just kind of hard not to force it because I just wanted to be back to playing good golf so quickly. Sometimes, less is more."

Mostly, Spieth kept things the same, averting the temptation to chop and change in search of a remedy. He did not switch his caddie (Michael Greller) or his swing coach (Cameron McCormick) but did seek advice from Butch Harmon. In the weeks leading up to the Valero, there were some positive signs, with two other 54-hole leads. But when you’ve been someone who wins, and then you don’t for a long while, there is only one way to truly break out of a slump.

If Spieth can get into the mix at the Masters, it would cap an extraordinary turnaround. 

Golf’s biggest event has a different feel to it this time, coming so soon after the most recent staging. Johnson won when it was held in November (rescheduled from April), cruising through after a week in which all the lead-up talk had been about the huge-hitting DeChambeau.

DeChambeau is much talked about again, with no one knowing what club option he’s going to stick in his bag, and an intense yet sympathetic focus is on the absence of Tiger Woods, who is being collectively wished a swift recovery from his February car crash.

Spieth adds another piece to the story. If this really is a return to the player of old, then the tournament — and golf in general — will be all the better for it.

Unsurprisingly, Spieth is feeling good about things and was delighted to arrive at Augusta on the back of a positive upturn. After everything that has happened, though, he is taking a circumspect approach.

"I’m a little over halfway there," he said.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.

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