Up to now, Spieth's worst showing at this place was a tie for 11th in 2017. Making the cut is his main priority at the moment. Spieth's misery was epitomized at the par-3 sixth hole, where he pushed his tee shot right of the green and followed with a terrible pitch, the ball rolling back off the front. He ran the chip 8 feet past the cup and missed the putt for a double bogey.
It was more of the same at the ninth. Spieth's approach to the tiered green caught the front slope and rolled back into the fairway. The Texan tried to pitch it up with his third shot, only to come up short again, watching helplessly as the ball rolled back to where he was standing in what anyone watching at home probably thought was a replay. He finally kept one on the green with his next swing but settled for his third bogey on the front side.
Up to now, Spieth's wedge game had been the only thing keeping him somewhat in the game. On a sunny day at Augusta National, that seemed to abandon him as well. Spieth pulled things together somewhat after the turn, stringing together a bunch of pars to go with a birdie at the par-3 16th, when he stuck his tee shot 8 feet from the flag and rolled in the putt. But all that did was keep him from eclipsing the worst score of his Masters career.
While it may have seemed strange to the casual fan to see Spieth struggling so mightily, this was really nothing new. Since his third-place showing at last year's Masters, when he finished two shots behind Patrick Reed, Spieth has managed only one top-10 finish — and that's when he fell apart in the final round of the British Open. The 25-year-old Texan bumbled his way to a 76 that put him four shots in arrears of winner Francisco Molinari, who certainly played well enough to win but benefited mightily from Spieth's collapse.
Turns out, that performance is the highlight of Spieth's past year. In 21 other stroke-play events, he's missed the cut six times and finished an average of 14 shots behind the winner in the other tournaments.
FOURTEEN! An afterthought, indeed. And maybe in a bit of denial. "I feel like my recent results aren't a tell of where my game is actually at," he said a few days ago. "I feel really good about my game, where it's at, heading into this week. It's just a matter of trust in the stuff that I'm working on, and I don't feel like I have to play well. I don't feel like there's any added pressure this week. I feel kind of under the radar, which is really nice."
Of course, it would be foolhardy to write off a guy who's already won three major titles and needs only the PGA Championship to complete a career grand slam. But some wonder if Spieth's physical limitations — he's never been one to boom it off the tee — has left him too little margin for error when he's struggling with the putter and short game.
As usual, Spieth ranked only 61st out of 87 players in driving distance (291.7 yards, nearly 37 yards shy of leader Rory McIlroy), but he also placed 70th in driving accuracy, 56th in greens hit in regulation, 32nd in proximity to the hole, 30th in scrambling and 22nd in number of putts.
Spieth didn't speak with the media after his round. He headed straight to the range. There were certainly plenty of things to work on.
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