Rozner: Spieth returns to Masters searching for his game

  • Jordan Spieth nailed a shot during Tuesday's practice round at Augusta National in preparation for the start of Thursday's Masters. Playing partner Gary Woodland was also impressed.

    Jordan Spieth nailed a shot during Tuesday's practice round at Augusta National in preparation for the start of Thursday's Masters. Playing partner Gary Woodland was also impressed. Associated Press

  • Jordan Spieth earned his green jacket for winning the 2015 Masters in Augusta, Ga.

    Jordan Spieth earned his green jacket for winning the 2015 Masters in Augusta, Ga. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 11/10/2020 2:57 PM

What happened to Jordan Spieth?

It is a question I'm asked as much as any other when it comes to professional golf, and you're likely to hear plenty about it this week as Spieth returns to the Masters, the scene of his greatest triumph -- and greatest failure.

 

The three-time major champ took the green jacket at Augusta in 2015 and won seven PGA Tour events before age 23, matching Tiger Woods as the only other player to do it.

But then he imploded with the lead the following April at the Masters, hitting a pair of shots into the water on 12. He did come back to win the Open Championship in 2017, but that's the last time he picked up a victory.

One of several dozen to be dubbed "The Next Tiger Woods" over the last 20 years, Spieth is a mess, the result of having chased distance and losing his swing in the process. Once so admired for his accuracy, Spieth now owns a two-way miss off the tee and his once extraordinary iron game is today a guessing game.

As likable and genuine as any player on Tour, it has been tough to watch as Spieth becomes more technical and tied up in knots with every ugly shot.

"There's a lot that's off. I'm not really sure. If I knew, I'd fix it," Spieth said after missing the cut at the U.S. Open. "I'm late behind it and the (moment) I try to get back out in front, it's hooking."

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From slice to hook and push to pull. Left, right, left, right. Army golf.

"Standing on a tee at the U.S. Open and not knowing where the ball is going is not a great feeling," Spieth said. "It's not incredibly enjoyable.

"But I'll grind it out. I don't ever give up. I have no reason to. I'm here. I feel that -- even with not having much tee to green -- I can somehow still shoot an even-par or under-par round."

Spieth missed the cut last week in Houston, continuing a miserable trend. In the five tourneys since the wraparound season began, he has played five times and missed the cut all three times in a cut event. In the two without a cut, he finished 38th and 41st.

In 17 events in the 2019-20 season, Spieth had three Top 10s. His best finish was an eighth at the CJ Cup in South Korea in October 2019. He was 71st at the PGA Championship in August and failed to make it as far as the BMW Championship at Olympia Fields in the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

What Spieth really needs now is to start playing golf instead of thinking golf -- or thinking swing. Easier said than done.

"I'd love to, but the second I try to pick a tree and swing at it, the ball goes pretty far offline," Spieth said. "There still needs to be focus on the mechanics. I'm trying to find the blend, trying to find the balance.

"I'm trying to pick really, really tight targets where you can just be an athlete. I'm trying to take the hands out of it, but right now it's requiring a lot of timing."

On Thursday at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, Spieth thought he had a plan.

"I told myself going into the round that I would just play draws," Spieth said. "I played four fade shots and I played those holes 6-over. I was right. The problem was I didn't stick with that."

The 27-year-old Spieth is hardly the first player to lose his way chasing distance, but it was never going to be his game anyway. He was 30 yards shorter than the Dustin Johnson types five years ago, but he stared down Johnson and beat him at the Chambers Bay U.S. Open.

He was the No. 1 player in the world and he was doing it with great iron play and even better putting, letting the bombers hit it miles past him and taking them down with play on the greens that earned him 10 wins in a two-year span.

But even his putter has now abandoned him.

With Bryson DeChambeau making a mockery of every course he plays, most of the players on Tour are looking to add speed to their swings, if not bulk to their bodies, but there's a cautionary tale here and you don't have to look further than Jordan Spieth to see what can happen.

It's been more than three years without a victory and Spieth is looking less and less like his old self with every passing month. If there's a positive it's that Augusta National is about the least technical course there is, feel entirely necessary on massively-undulating greens and fairways with hanging lies that require touch, imagination and course knowledge.

Spieth is such an easy guy to root for and it's painful to see the man completely lost on a golf course.

And it's something every golfer can relate to.

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