A ball of nervous energy, Jordan Spieth is in his happy place — leading in Texas
When Jordan Spieth is in his happy place, there’s constant chatter, nervous fan interaction, eye rolls and aw-shucks head shaking.
Suffice to say all of these were on display during the third round of the Valero Texas Open, as the former University of Texas star was smack dab in his favorite spot — leading a golf tournament in his home state.
Spieth dug himself out of some tricky scenarios as only he can, weaving his way to a 31 on the back nine at TPC San Antonio’s Oaks Course, and pushing into a tie for the lead with Matt Wallace at 12 under.
Perhaps his most magnificent escape came on No. 17, when he followed a 334-yard drive into a collection area by opening the face on a wedge and hitting a full flop shot to 30 inches. Spieth tapped in the short birdie putt and rolled his head as if to admit he’d just pulled a Houdini.
“So I guess my ball got onto the cart path and then ran to the end of it. You can miss that tee shot right if you want all day and it stays short of pin high and it’s a pretty easy up and down to that pin. So I was in a tough spot,” he said of the escapade on the second-to-last hole. “Got a drop from the cart path and just ended up on some kind of hardpan stuff. I was looking to lay up way to the left and then walked up to the green and saw that that was just as difficult as going at the hole, so I figured may as well go to the hole in case I pull the shot off.
“I think I told Wally it was like a one in 10, but it was maybe like a one in five. It’s kind of like a half-long bunker shot almost. For it to go the right distance is certainly fortunate, but I was just trying to make four and got a bonus out of it.”
For the first time in what has seemed like forever — between a prolonged slump and the pandemic — the day’s biggest crowds were following Spieth all along the Greg Norman design, chirping at nearly every shot and spurring him on.
After a warm reception in Austin for last week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Spieth is feeling the love, not only of his home state, but from Tour fans who haven’t seen him win since 2017’s Open Championship. And while winning a second green jacket would be the ultimate prize, Spieth insisted he’s only looking at the next 24 hours.
“Winning here would be … I mean, winning a PGA Tour event is a very, very difficult thing to do and I’ve certainly been humbled in that process over the last few years. First, I’m focused on this week, always have been. I haven’t thought ahead whatsoever,” Spieth said. “I thought the best prep for next week is to work yourself into contention and just kind of see where all facets of the game are under pressure. I got quite a bit of that today to test out and hopefully make some improvements for tomorrow.”
He’ll face stern competition from Wallace, who matched his 67 on Saturday and also stands at 12 under, and Charley Hoffman, who fired a 65 and is just two back of the leaders.
But either way, he’s simply happy to be in the hunt, twitching and chortling as only he can, showing his anxiety like no other player does.
“Trust me, I feel the nerves even when you’re not playing well because sometimes you’re even more nervous because you don’t know where the damn ball’s going to go,” Spieth said. “It’s nice feeling comfortable under pressure, I think that’s the most important thing. You start doing it more often and you feel more comfortable under pressure and that’s kind of why we play the game at this level, that’s what’s fun for us.”
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