Spieth doesn’t see it that way.
“There’s more good (swings) than there was a month ago, and there were more then than there was a month before that,” he said. “I’m not in a place where I can say I’m standing up and just striping, but I’m in a place to where I’ve got it to where I can manage (the swing) and I can manage around this golf course.”
That sounded like Spieth trying not to look ahead. But asked if he now allows himself to think he can win, Spieth said: “I came in thinking that.” Former Masters champions in their prime tend to always believe that. Spieth is the only one high on the leaderboard after two rounds this year.
Credit to Spieth. One victory and three other top-five finishes this year weren’t enough to convince me could win his first major since 2017. Spieth has shown over two days that he’s capable of doing it.
He worked hard to post a one-under 71 on Friday. That left him six shots behind Rose, who was four clear of the field. Rose started leaking oil early on Friday with four bogeys within the first seven holes.
Spieth: “After seeing his start, I thought, ‘Game on, let’s stick to the game plan.’”
Spieth was one-under on the front nine Friday. He had four birdies on the back. He missed a short par putt at No. 12 and then his his drive at the par-5 13th deep into the trees right of the fairway. Spieth responded with a great recovery shot.
He used his 3-wood to cut the ball under some low-hanging branches. It came to rest 200 yards away on the fairway, near the green. Spieth got up-and-down for birdie.
“I thought that was kind of a turning point,” Spieth said. “That could have gone the other direction.”
Spieth might be turning around his career, too. He took his turn on the carousel as the dominant guy post-Tiger. Spieth went wire-to-wire to win the 2015 Masters with an 18-under score that tied Woods’ record (broken last year by Dustin Johnson). Spieth won the U.S. Open that year and lost the PGA Championship by one stroke.
Spieth was No. 1 in the world to end 2015. Then came the collapse at the 2016 Masters. Spieth led by five strokes with nine holes to play and lost by three. He seemed to overcome that by winning the 2017 British Open after losing his lead to Matt Kuchar with five holes to play.
That was Spieth’s last victory until last weekend. He went 0-for-23 in both 2018 and 2019. He was 0-for-17 in 2020. Spieth’s results at majors were all over the place during those three years.
Third at the Masters in 2018 but tied for 21st and 46th the next two years. Tied for third at the 2019 PGA Championship, then 71st the next year. Spieth missed the cut two of the past three years at the U.S. Open.
Spieth has been stuck on three major championship victories since 2017. That’s one less than Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka, and one more than Johnson. McIlroy, Koepka and Johnson all missed the cut on Friday.
There was a time when it seemed Spieth might never get back to the top. He was No. 17 in the World Golf Rankings to end 2018, No. 4 in 2019 and No. 82 last year. Winning the Texas Open moved him back up to 37th, his highest ranking since he was 37th in October 2019.
Winning Masters would signal Spieth’s return to the top tier of players. He’ll have to gain strokes this weekend on Rose. He’s finished second twice at Augusta and won the 2013 U.S. Open. Brian Harman and Will Zalatoris are tied for second at 6-under.
There could be a lot of movement on the leaderboard this weekend with thunderstorms and high winds in the forecast.
Said Spieth: “I’m happy that the golf course has the opportunity to play more and more difficult over the weekend. Personally, I’m looking forward to that kind of challenge, and I think that could be an advantage to me if I’m in control of the ball.”
Another possible advantage for Spieth is the fans who will be pulling for him. Everybody loves a comeback story when the person coming back is likeable.