• Jordan Spieth was four over par after seven holes on Friday but hung in and managed to stay within reach of leader Patrick Reed.
By Stephanie Apstein
April 06, 2018

AUGUSTA, Ga. — He had scraped back from four over par after seven holes to salvage his second round, but still Jordan Spieth was annoyed. His second shot on the 17th hole at the Masters landed below the hole on the edge of the green.

“Come on, Jordan!” he barked. “You’re better than that!”

As he waited for caddie Michael Greller to locate his divot, Spieth took another half-dozen air swings. He stalked to the green, re-litigating his shot the whole way. It was easy to imagine the 24-year-old losing his focus, succumbing to his frustration, letting the day get away from him.

Then he two-putted for par.

He entered Friday as the leader by two strokes and finished it tied for fourth at four under. This course rewards golfers who can weather irritation and punishes those who can’t, which Spieth knows as well as anyone. Augusta National Golf Club has been the scene of his greatest professional triumph, when at 21 in 2015 he led wire-to-wire and tied Tiger Woods’s course record at 18 under. (Twelve months earlier, in his Masters debut, Spieth had lost his bid to be the youngest champion in tournament history, by three strokes.) But it was here, too, that he suffered a collapse that was comparable to Greg Norman letting a six-shot lead slip away on Sunday in 1996. Spieth, up five strokes entering the final back nine, bogeyed the 10th and 11th holes and then quadruple-bogeyed the 12th. He finished with what must have been the least satisfying second-place finish of his life. 

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“I’ll always have demons out here,” he said Thursday. “But I’ll always have a tremendous amount of confidence out here. Once you win here, you have an advantage over anybody who hasn’t won here.”

Spieth shot a 66 on Thursday, buoyed by an eagle on 8 and seven birdies. But the highlight might actually have been a pair of bogeys, on 7 and 18, that could have been much worse. He has now led after nine of the 18 rounds he has played at Augusta. That’s not necessarily predictive—it only counts if you lead after Sunday—but Woods has led nine times … out of 76.

It was clear early Friday that Spieth would not make it 10 for 18. He sent his tee shot on the first hole sailing into the pine straw. His initial putt on the second overran the hole by four feet. He lined up on the third—thinking, This is an easy tee shot. You can’t screw this one up—three over par on the day. He bogeyed again on 7, then hit what he thought was a great drive on 9. He arrived to find the ball sitting a foot into the right rough. He stared at it, exasperated.

But then he hit an up-and-down to save par and his mood brightened. Forget about everything that’s happened here, he told himself. Let’s try and shoot two under on the back nine.

He is an expressive golfer, chirping at his ball, yelling at himself and occasionally pounding his driver into the ground after a poor shot. Occasionally this can lead to brash, perilous decisions, as when he half-committed to his tee shot on 12 in 2016. Friday his most frustrating moments came when he rushed shots on the first and second holes, and at 7, when the wind made him tentative. “I just bailed out a little,” he said. “I just didn’t trust my instincts there.”

Greller, 40, reminds Spieth constantly to trust his instincts. As a former fifth- and sixth-grade math teacher, the caddie is perhaps uniquely suited to soothe frustration. “Man,” he told Spieth Friday, “you always take punches out here and come back stronger.”

And that is where Spieth’s emotion can help him. When he feels good, he seems to keep himself fired up and confident. He can take risks and commit to them—and succeed. And when he can rein in the anger, as he did Friday, he can give himself a chance to get that far.

Conditions were difficult Friday, especially early in the day, when Spieth played. A light wind seemed to keep changing paths. Rory McIlroy, who shot one under to finish the day tied with Spieth, said he felt as if he played the last six or seven holes—which all face different directions—downwind.

The forecast for Saturday is murky but suggests strong winds and some rain. Because the fairways are mowed toward the tee boxes, even a light rain tomorrow could create mud balls by Sunday. Difficult conditions can be frustrating. Some golfers might let their emotions overwhelm them. Spieth has shown he can be better than that.

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)