Scott Fowler

Jordan Spieth asks ‘What would Arnie do?’ And puts himself in contention at Masters

Jordan Spieth hits onto the second green Saturday on his way to a round of 68. He is in position for a top-three finish despite an opening round Thursday that included a 9 on his scorecard.
Jordan Spieth hits onto the second green Saturday on his way to a round of 68. He is in position for a top-three finish despite an opening round Thursday that included a 9 on his scorecard. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Golf will humble you, even if your name is Jordan Spieth and you have finished no worse than tied for second place the three times you have played the Masters.

Spieth had a 9 on his scorecard Thursday in the first round – the sort of score even most recreational golfers are able to avoid. He made a quadruple bogey on the par-5 No. 15 – a hole known much more for the eagles it concedes than the quadruples it forces – and that threatened to end his tournament before it really began.

But golf also can elevate you, and as the final round looms at Augusta National, that could happen to Spieth again. Once on Saturday, he asked himself out loud, “What would Arnie do?”

That referred to the late, great Arnold Palmer, and Spieth used it as a mantra for going for the green in two shots on No. 13 instead of laying up. That worked out well, as Spieth made a birdie on his way to a 68 while energizing the old Arnie’s Army in the process.

On Sunday, Spieth knows he will start two strokes behind. But he has put himself into position for another top-three finish – and quite possibly his second green jacket – by playing gorgeous golf ever since that 9 made its unwelcome appearance. If he does win, he will be the first golfer to ever win the Masters with a quadruple bogey on his scorecard.

“Tomorrow (Sunday) might free me up a bit, playing from behind,” Spieth said. “I plan to play aggressive, because at this point it’s win or go home. … Finishing fifth vs. finishing 10th doesn’t mean much to me.”

Spieth, a 23-year-old Texan, is the sort of star American golf sorely needs. He contends constantly at Augusta and in 2015 won with a score of 18-under-par that tied Tiger Woods’ mark in 1997 for the best 72-hole score ever in the tournament.

The weekend’s weather at Augusta National has been majestic. Fans wore sunscreen and shorts Saturday after two days of blankets and windbreakers. The best Sundays at Augusta are ripe with possibility and sunshine, and this will be one of those.

“I know more than most what can happen on Sundays around here, good and bad,” Rory McIlroy said after finishing his round. “I shot 66 in the last round and I shot 80.”

McIlroy’s 80 came in the final round in 2011, when he started the day at No. 1 on the leader board Sunday morning and came out bedraggled and tied for 15th.

“Anything can happen on a Sunday at Augusta,” Pat Day agreed. “Guys can either melt down or guys can come from behind and win big.”

Spieth’s meltdown came Thursday. During his 9, he said he made an incorrect club selection and knocked one in the water.

“I didn’t take my medicine,” said Spieth, who followed the golf ball he drowned with another that he used to overshoot the green. Then he chipped up and three-putted to end up taking the same number of strokes as the number of innings in a baseball game.

Ever since then, Spieth has been mostly spectacular. “Part of me is thinking, you know, what if we had those four strokes back?” he said Friday, referring to the quadruple bogey.

After that 9 led to an opening-round 75, Spieth found himself 10 shots behind the leader. But he hasn't stopped catapulting players since and said Saturday he took some inspiration from New England rebounding from a 28-3 deficit against Atlanta to win the most recent Super Bowl.

Paired with Phil Mickelson in the marquee twosome of the day, Spieth outdid his playing partner as well as almost everyone else.

When he got to No. 15 this time, he yelled at his errant tee shot but still recovered and made a tap-in birdie. He three-putted from 60 feet on No. 16 to give one stroke back – it was his first bogey in 30 holes. He finished with two more pars to end up at 4-under for the day and the tournament.

“I feel great,” Spieth said. “After the first round, I couldn’t ask for much better than this.”

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