Putting struggles keep Spieth from breaking par at PGA
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Jordan Spieth has displayed a new skill set in 2017, and it’s one that we still have to get accustomed to. His ballstriking has been the key to his success, while his trusty putter has failed to live up to his standards. That was the case again Thursday as Spieth began his pursuit of the career Grand Slam at Quail Hollow. This is a course that requires players to drive the ball well, and Spieth leaned heavily on the longest club in his bag. It was the shortest one that frustrated him, though. “It was just the putter,” Spieth said after a first-round 72 that left him five shots behind leader Thorbjorn Olesen. Spieth had 32 putts Thursday, and didn’t make a putt longer than 5 feet. “If you told me I was going to hit my driver the way that I did today, I would have definitely thought I shot a few under par,” Spieth said. “I can't putt any worse than I did today." This was only the fifth time this season that Spieth had 32 or more putts. It was his fifth-worst performance in Strokes Gained: Putting (-2.15 strokes) this season, as well. If Spieth is to become the youngest player ever to complete the career Grand Slam – and this is his lone opportunity to break Tiger Woods’ record – then Spieth will have to win in a way that is unprecedented for him. Spieth has never finished in the top 10 in a major after shooting over par in the first round. His best finish was a T11 at this year’s Masters, where he shot a first-round 75 after making a quadruple-bogey at the 15th hole. He battled to within two shots of the lead after 54 holes, but shot another 75 in the last round. Spieth’s caddie, Michael Greller, used that tournament as inspiration when Spieth arrived at the seventh tee Thursday at 3 over par. “He goes, ‘Grind these last few. You had a chance to win Augusta and we were in a worse position at this point,’” Spieth said. “And he was spot on.” They knew birdie opportunities awaited, at Quail Hollow's par-5 seventh and the short, par-4 eighth hole. There was still the possibility to turn in an even-par scorecard. “If I were to finish par, par, par, I would have thrown myself out of the tournament,” Spieth said. Instead, he made two birdies and a solid par at the final hole. His rally started with a 296-yard drive into the fairway at the seventh hole. His playing partners, Brooks Koepka and Sergio Garcia, had to lay-up after missing the fairway, but Spieth was able to hit a hybrid that just trickled through the green and set-up a two-putt birdie. A 290-yard drive into the fairway on the next hole set up a 57-yard approach that he knocked stiff. Spieth hit 10 of 14 fairways while averaging 298.8 yards on all tee shots. He gained 2.03 strokes off the tee Thursday, his second-best performance in that stat this season. He also hit 12 of 18 greens. “If I would have shot 1 over and didn't strike it well and everything was average, it would have been fine. But when I had the chances that I had and I just couldn't get the ball to go in on the greens, that is when I get the most frustrated I can get out there,” Spieth said. He is in the midst of the best ballstriking season of his career, leading the PGA TOUR in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green. Earlier this year, he said that his playoff victory at the Travelers Championship was the first time that he won on the PGA TOUR without putting well. His Open Championship win, the one that set the stage for the career Grand Slam, will be remembered for the long putts he holed down the stretch, but he also wasn't content with his putting performance at Royal Birkdale. He ranks 47th in Strokes Gained: Putting this season, his worst ranking in that statistic since his rookie season of 2013. Spieth, who teed off on No. 10 on Thursday, missed a downhill, 8-foot birdie putt at the par-3 13th. He drove the green at the next hole, but his 120-foot eagle putt rolled off the back of the green, leading to par. Spieth also three-putted the sixth and seven holes from just off the green. He missed 10-foot par putts on both holes. “He didn't make as many putts as he usually does. I feel like that 15- to 20-foot range, usually see him make a bunch of putts. He just didn't make any,” said Koepka, who shot 68. “He had a couple putts that he just ran 10, 15 feet by. But he struck it really well.” Spieth knows he has ground to make up. He has started with 68 or better in all three of his major wins. He held the 36-hole and 54-hole leads in all three victories, as well. "I know I'm still in it, but I know that tomorrow's round becomes that much more important. ... I've got to make up ground," Spieth said. “If I'm five back at the start of the day, I've got to be less than five back after Friday to really feel like I can play the way this golf course needs to be played and still be able to win."
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