Adam Gold

Perspective: Spieth is best player of generation

Posted July 24

Perspective.

Jordan Spieth is the best player of this generation.

For now.

That isn’t said to diminish his third major championship by the age of 23 or him being the second-youngest player ever to achieve three legs of the career grand slam. Only Jack Nicklaus accomplished that feat at a younger age — by about six months, if you’re scoring at home.

If Spieth follows Sunday’s Open Championship triumph with one at Quail Hollow in Charlotte next month, he’ll be the youngest to ever collect all four of golf’s major trophies, as the Golden Bear waited three more years before grabbing his first Claret Jug.

If Spieth doesn’t win the PGA in three weeks, the record stays with that Tiger Woods guy.

Remember him?

Back to Spieth and his remarkable, thrill ride of a final round at Royal Birkdale.

It was one of the most exciting ends of major championship golf we’ve ever seen. At first, shaky, nervous and uncharacteristically out of sorts, Spieth spit up all of a 3-stroke lead with bogeys on three of his first four holes to drop back to 8-under par and a tie with eventual runner-up Matt Kuchar. A birdie at the fifth hole restored Spieth to the lead, but a bogey at the 9th created the second tie game of the day when the 23-year old Texan 3-putted from 20 feet.

It would only get worse from there.

Spieth snapped a tee shot into the gallery — for what seemed like the tenth time of the tournament — on the par-3 12th only to find his ball left of the green, up on a sand dune, but in a reasonably good lie that enabled him to save par because he is the best at scrambling on tour. You can have all of your statistics, do you think there are 55 players on tour better than Spieth from off the green?

Jordan was just warming up.

On the 13th hole, a 500-yard, relatively straight par 4, Spieth blew his drive about 70 yards to the right of his target. It hit a fan in the head (anyone surprised?), and caromed into impossibly deep grass on the far side of a giant sand dune that protects the adjacent practice range. From there, he took an unplayable lie hit an unremarkable approach shot that came up well short of the green and still managed to make a bogey when most of the sport’s best would have needed an abacus to total up the strokes. His best friend on tour, Justin Thomas, made a nine earlier in the tournament from a not too dissimilar position.

At this point, Spieth, who had made a total mess of his final round (4-over par to that point), found himself trailing for the first time since Friday afternoon. Had Kuchar been in better position to take advantage, the outcome might have been dramatically different. What happened in the next hour and 15 minutes was legendary.

Spieth…

…nearly aced the par-3 14th, settling for birdie after his tee shot rolled over the right edge of the hole, stopping about eight feet behind the flag.

…drained a 48-foot eagle putt on the par-5 15th to take a one shot lead.

…rolled in a birdie from 30-feet on the par-4 16th after driving into the rough (again).

…converted a birdie putt from 8 feet after Kuchar’s 20-footer for birdie trimmed the lead to one — temporarily.

Four holes, five strokes to the better of par, from one behind to two ahead in the blink of an eye. And all after nearly shooting himself out of the tournament with one near disastrous swing of the club.

It was tremendous theater. But, this final round wasn’t better than last year’s Open, when Henrik Stenson’s 63 out dueled Phil Mickelson’s 65 at Royal Troon. It wasn’t better than the 2011 Masters when eight different players had at least a share of the lead on Sunday and Charl Schwartzel birdied the final four holes to claim the Green Jacket. And, it certainly wasn’t more exciting than Jack’s back nine 30 at Augusta in 1986. So, before we become prisoners of the moment, a little perspective.

Spieth’s 11th career win came in just his 113th professional start. That is remarkable. He will turn 24 years old on Thursday and he certainly has dozens more victories and who knows how many major championships in front of him. But, at roughly the same point of his career, Tiger Woods had 24 wins in just 90 tournaments. Jordan’s third major came in his 18th professional attempt — an amazing conversion ratio. Woods won five of his first 16. I understand the need to create narratives, but rushing to conclusions just makes you look like a dope.

Spieth wins at a rate of just under 10% of the time, .0973 to be exact. Woods’ first five pro seasons saw him win at a .2667 clip and if we expand the range through the 2008 season, Tiger won a remarkable 29.3% of the time. Surprisingly, Woods’ win rate went UP in majors, with 14 titles in 46 tries through his unreal US Open win at Torrey Pines in 2008 — a final round that was ALSO more amazing than what Spieth pulled off yesterday, unless we find out that he did it on a broken leg and a torn ACL.

I love Jordan Spieth. He’s great for the game. He’s exciting to watch because he does a lot of things Tiger Woods did in his prime. He doesn’t have quite the raw skill of a Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy or Jason Day, but if you had to bet your house on which of those players would produce the best score on a given day, Spieth would be the wise choice.

But, in the haste of heaping justifiable praise on a 24-year old star who just captured his third major championship, too many have become prisoners of the moment. What they all need is just a little perspective.

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