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Spieth finds himself in new position - on Tour Championship bubble

It was suggested to Jordan Spieth that he is in scramble mode this week. Don’t tell him that. Not when the subject is the funnel that feeds into the season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake.

Not squeezing on through the narrow opening to the Tour Championship – only the top 30 in FedEx Cup points do it – remains as unthinkable to the Dallas-born Spieth as rooting for the Eagles Thursday night. After all, in his five previous full professional seasons, he has never missed the big money give-away at Bobby Jones’ place.

What do you mean, scramble?

Does any semi-convincing Wonder Woman look-alike scramble to get to get into Dragoncon? 

Does Steph Curry scramble to get a good view to the NBA Finals?

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“I’m actually inside the number right now, you might forget,” Spieth said Wednesday, 27th in points. “So, I don’t know about scrambling.”  

Yes, if the Tour Championship were to begin today, Spieth would make it six straight. But it doesn’t. The BMW Championship, the final playoff event before the Tour Championship, tees off Thursday. And Spieth never has gone into this penultimate tournament this perilously close to the No. 30 cut-off/ledge. 

In the five previous years, Spieth has never been so much as outside the top 10 in points coming to the BMW Championship. And he never went to the Tour Championship higher than 13th. A FedEx Cup winner in 2015, Spieth a year ago came to East Lake No. 1 in points for the first time. He was runner-up to Justin Thomas for the FedEx cup and the $10 million bonus.

He’s always before came to this event with a soft place to land in case the putts opted not to drop.

But this week, in scramble mode or not, Spieth can’t afford to bomb out and still expect to keep his Tour Championship streak alive.

In this unaccustomed position, Spieth is steadfastly confident, saying, “My mind is not set on any kind of projections, I promise you that. It’s not do or die for me.” The PGA Tour projects that he likely needs to finish 28th or better to assure himself a spot in the Tour Championship.

“I’ll embrace the challenge and try to go out and work my way into the top 10 this week. That would be the goal because outside the top 10, it’s difficult to win the FedEx Cup,” Spieth said.

There is a huge amount of star power playing in one group for the first two rounds of the BMW, all three needing a solid week in order to advance to Atlanta and ratchet up ticket sales. They are “The Bubble Boys of Aronimink Golf Club,” Nos. 25, 26 and 27 on your FedEx Cup point standings. Perhaps you’ve heard that Tiger Woods (25th) is contending for a Tour Championship spot after a four-year absence. Then there’s the kids’ favorite, Rickie Fowler, whose wardrobe might be the cure for color blindness. And Spieth, the three-time major winner at the tender age of 25, who needs something good to happen quickly to avoid only his second winless season on Tour. All three tee off together Thursday at 11:30 a.m. 

Lost in the Woods Watch has been the tenuous nature of Spieth’s impressive run of consecutive Tour Championships. He has come to be something of a fixture at East Lake, like the Tudor clubhouse or the taunting cruelty of a practice range fronted by water. (Although Spieth’s streak pales next to Dustin Johnson’s, who will make his 10th straight Tour Championship in two weeks).  

Here’s a fellow who knows no other way to spend an early college football weekend but to play a classic course for obscene money. Everyone just sort of assumes he’ll be there every year. He does the same. 

“Yeah, I mean each year you pick a schedule and I have essentially assumed – based on the previous years – that (the Tour Championship) would be a part of it and I’d have a chance to win the FedEx Cup,” he said.

“Each year I’ve had an opportunity to win the FedEx Cup at the end of the year,” Spieth added. “It’s certainly highlighted as a goal. This year I’m in a more difficult position to win the FedEx Cup than I’ve been in the last five years. At some point in your career you’ll be stuck in a position that is more difficult than other years.”

Spieth’s 2018 season displayed a precipitous drop in putting early on – he’s 121st in strokes gained putting now, while being as high as 2nd just two years ago – and some uncharacteristically loose iron play lately. His finishes in the previous two playoff events – 25th and 12th – have featured flat fourth rounds (neither one in the 60s). Still, anything in that range would keep East Lake on his schedule.

If the unthinkable were to happen and Spieth missed the Tour Championship cut, he said he’d likely just go home to Texas and start tuning up for the Ryder Cup.

Hard to say now just how disappointed he’d be – “I haven’t missed it, so I don’t really know,” he said. That’s not an emotional cave he’s anxious to explore.

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