A decade after his coming out party at the AT&T Byron Nelson as a 16-year-old prodigy, Jordan Spieth is in position to win his hometown tournament for the first time.
Or, if nothing less, perhaps record his first top-10 finish in his 10th attempt at this tournament where in 2010 he finished T-16. Amazingly, he’s never done better, but this could be the year. Spieth finished off a third-round 6-under 66 at TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas, in dramatic fashion, sinking a putt from 31 feet off the green for eagle to climb into a share of third place at 17-under 199, three strokes behind leader Sam Burns (69) and two behind South Korea’s K.H. Lee (67).
“When it got on the green, I thought, ‘Wow, if it has enough, it’s going to get there and it’s going to be electric’ and 4 feet to go I thought it was going to go in,” said Spieth, who lifted his putter to the sky in early celebration.
ANOTHER walk-off eagle. 🦅
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) May 15, 2021
On the day of the Preakness Stakes triple crown race, Spieth was slow out of the gate, making par on his first five holes, including a three-putt par from 64 feet at the par-5 fifth. But then he made his move, recording birdies on four of his next five holes. Just when he seemed poise to make another of his patented Saturday charges, Spieth lost his footing, though he opted for a car racing metaphor.
“I was leaking oil the last few holes,” he said.
Two bogeys at Nos. 15 and 16 – the first when he hung his tee shot at the par 3 to the right and failed to get up and down and the latter the result of an uncharacteristic three-putt from 17 feet – dropped him back to 15 under and four strokes back at the time.
Spieth battled a misbehaving putter on Friday, losing nearly a stroke and half to the field on the greens. So, he made an adjustment in his setup for the third round, widening his stance and bending over slightly more. The results were mixed. He took 29 putts on Saturday and lost ground to the field again (-0.385).
“I opened up a little bit and got worried on a couple missing left, so I ended up pushing them right,” he said. “If I was putting as well as I do in tournaments that I win, we would have a number of strokes better right now. Hopefully I can make up for that tomorrow.”
He got a head start with the eagle at 18 after sending his second at the par 5 just over the green. Putting through the Zoysia grass had given him fits earlier in the round. Not this time. His latest magic act sent the hometown fans into a frenzy.
“Once it got on the green, it looked good,” Spieth said. “Started the putter raise and I wasn’t positive it was going in because the angle it was coming in at. I wanted to do the no look to the crowd, but, I mean, it was a really cool moment.”
Spieth’s eagle erased the two late bogeys in one fell swoop, climbing into a tie for third with Matt Kuchar (66), Sweden’s Alex Noren (70) and South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel (66).
Spieth still has ground to make up if he’s going to vault past Lee, who is seeking his first PGA Tour title, and Burns, who is trying to win in back-to-back starts. Burns followed up his sizzling 62 on Friday with a workmanlike 3-under 69, which his caddie, Travis Perkins, reminded him wasn’t too shabby at all.
“I told him, ‘Man, I didn’t really have my best stuff today’ and just left a few out there. He’s like, ‘Yeah, but it’s hard to follow up what happened yesterday. It’s important to remember that.’ ”
Spieth, who has won 12 times including three majors since his debut at the Byron Nelson as a teen sensation, knows he’ll have to keep going low to have a chance to win for the second time in his native Texas this year. (He won the Valero Texas Open last month.)
“It’s one of those rounds you want to control your own destiny,” he said of Sunday’s finale at TPC Craig Ranch, “but looks like I’ll be three back, and so you just got to go low or hope that Sam doesn’t go as low, right?”
About as right as his hole-out at 18.