Spieth bids for greatness 

click to enlarge Jordan Spieth is maintaining his dominance at the Masters this year, but he knows his good fortune could change at any time. - CHRIS CARLSON/AP
  • Chris Carlson/AP
  • Jordan Spieth is maintaining his dominance at the Masters this year, but he knows his good fortune could change at any time.
AUGUSTA, Ga. — This is greatness realized. This is a kid who the golf experts said would be the next great American, playing like the next great American. This is the 21st century version of Tiger Woods, albeit without the Woods aura.

This is Jordan Spieth tramping around the sacred ground of Augusta National Golf Club as only people like Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Phil Mickelson were supposed to do.

Also, for those who remember Spieth, as an 18-year-old, finishing as low amateur and 21st overall in the 2012 U.S. Open at San Francisco’s Olympic Club, this is no surprise.

“He’s played beautifully,” affirmed Woods, a man who would know what beautiful playing is.

Spieth shot a 6-under par 66 Friday, and along with that 64 Thursday, he not only has a huge second-round lead of five shots but a Masters 36-hole record of 14-under par 136, a stroke better than the 131 by Raymond Floyd in 1976.

That also ties the lowest total after the opening 36 holes in the history of major championships, held by Martin Kaymer in the 2014 U.S. Open, Brandt Snedeker in the 2012 British Open and Nick Faldo in the 1992 British.

All this is shrugged off by Spieth, now 21. He understands what lies ahead. He had the lead in last year’s Masters and came in second to Bubba Watson. He has the training, not just as a golfer, but as a personality — restrained, cool, careful. He grew up with the game and within the game’s demands.

“As far as history and what happened the last couple days,” said Spieth, “it doesn’t mean anything unless I can close it out. I don’t want to go in as the 36-hole best record but somebody who didn’t win. I just need to set a goal for myself, continue to strike the ball the way I have been and try and shoot under-par rounds on this weekend.”

Big leads have been lost at Augusta. The most infamous was the one of six shots held by Greg Norman the final Sunday in 1996. The winner by five shots was Nick Faldo.

It doesn’t always take the leader. Or the chaser. A bogey by the man in front linked to a birdie by the man behind is a swing of two strokes. A ball trickling into a trap, another spinning out of a cup and just like that the game is on.

Not that Spieth is Norman, who played one style, charging all the time. Spieth is more like Nicklaus. Or Woods. They understand what is possible. And what is not. The unspoken rule is to win at Augusta, a golfer must birdie the par-5’s. Spieth as birdied seven of the eight he played. On the other, the 15th hole Thursday, he had his only bogey of the tournament. Against 15 birdies.

Yet what happened last year makes him properly wary.

“Each time, every day,” he said, “I’ve learned patience. What I learned [last year] was that the weekend of a major, whose rounds often seem like two rounds in kind of the mental stuff that’s running through your head, are the stress levels, and sometimes they are higher.

“The hardest thing to do is to do is to put aside wanting to win so badly. I got off to a great start and had a chance to win last year on Sunday. I’d like to have that same opportunity this year.”

There’s no defense in golf. One only can control his or her own game. Charlie Hoffman is playing excellently this Masters. He’s 9-under par. That normally would be good for first, but he’s second. By five shots. “Oh yeah, I see those big, white leader boards,” said Hoffman. “I was aware (Spieth) was making a lot of birdies and playing good golf.”

Spieth’s golf is not good, it’s fantastic. It’s the type of golf Tiger played when he won the 2000 U.S Open at Pebble Beach by 15 shots, golf that grabs you and shakes you into disbelief.

It’s the golf played by champions.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com. Email him at typoes@aol.com.

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Art Spander

Art Spander

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Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.bleacherreport.com. Email him at typoes@aol.com.
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