The greatest American golfer of his generation took a commanding lead into Sunday’s final round at Pebble Beach. He played well; well enough to win the tournament comfortably.
Is that a statement about Jordan Spieth in 2017 or Tiger Woods in 2000?
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Spieth’s win at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am was nowhere close to as iconic as Woods’ lapping of the field at the 2000 U.S. Open (he won twice that year at Pebble), but it felt symbolic. On a week that was defined by Tiger’s rinse-repeat physical breakdown, Spieth emerged from the shadow of that story at the perfect time.
It was his seventh win in eight tries with the 54-hole lead. (Tiger-esque.)
It was his ninth win in 100 career starts on the PGA Tour. Only Rory McIlroy has a better winning percentage among active players.
He joined Woods as the only player to win nine times before his 24th birthday, with six months to spare.
“I don't think anyone's going to win at the same percentage that Tiger won at, so that's a bit different,” Spieth quickly countered after his round. “I started earlier than he did. No, I don't think it's fair to necessarily compare to it, but at the same time, I'm not in here to tell you guys how to do your job, so you don't tell me how to do mine, you just ask me about mine. So you guys can do whatever you want.”
Golf is aching for somebody (American) to take the mantle. The hoard of media members to chase Tiger’s broken back halfway around the world is evidence of that. Is Jordan Spieth that player? The answer is ‘yes,’ and he’s starting to grasp it.
Before the Woods news broke last week, the story in golf was Spieth’s angry dress down of professional autograph
whores seekers. Profanity and pushiness drove Spieth to take a stand.
“I'm not appreciative of people who travel to benefit off other people's success," he said. “I was just a little frustrated at the end, and I didn't appreciate the language that was used and just some scums that just ... it just bothered me."
It wasn’t an unpopular opinion and certainly didn’t open Spieth to much criticism, but it was a stand. It was a young man using his platform and finding his voice.
Woods has often faced harsh criticism for not taking enough stands. He lets his foundation do the talking for his charitable side and rarely speaks his mind on hot-button social issues. His recent answer in an interview with Shane O'Donoghue about the political climate in America would have made the Swiss proud. His father, Earl, did most of the “controversial” speaking for him in his youth.
At 23 years old, is Spieth ready to be that ambassador? This week gave us glimpses, in perfect segments of timing coincidence, to think that he will be. While he won’t win at Tiger’s pace moving forward (nobody ever will again), he could win more than him if he stays healthy. Winning equals comfort. Perhaps comfort will allow him to transcend his current step as a great, young talent.
“Probably more comfortable than I was a couple years ago just because I recognize the longevity of a career and, again, I've seen the ups and downs,” Spieth added. “I'm not sure what my standard is yet… I think it takes maybe a decade to figure that out.”
The clock is ticking. Golf’s waiting.
The Other Winner
Each week during the season, I will offer up one player who, while not winning, escaped unnoticed with a big finish.
The 2011 U.S. Amateur Final Pairing – Kelly Kraft earned the highest finish of his PGA Tour career in finishing runner-up to Spieth. The 2011 U.S. Amateur champ has battled inconsistencies and questions in getting to this point, but looked the part on the weekend at Pebble.
The man he beat in that epic final in 2011 (at Erin Hills, site of this year’s U.S. Open) is Patrick Cantlay, the Cant-miss wunderkind who has battled a bad back and unspeakable tragedy to get back on Tour. While he has just nine starts left on a major medical extension (he needs 381 FedEx Cup points in those starts), making the cut in his return is a welcomed start.