Spi­eth wants rep­u­ta­tion as be­ing a good closer

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

The club throw. The body bump.

Those are the in­deli­ble images from Jor­dan Spi­eth’s vic­tory in the Trav­eler’s Cham­pi­onship, where he holed a 60-foot bunker shot in a play­off to de­feat Daniel Berger and cap­ture his 10th ti­tle on the PGA Tour a month be­fore his 24th birth­day.

Not to be over­looked was a more serene snap­shot - Spi­eth pos­ing with the tro­phy.

It was the most com­fort­able he looked all day, even though he never trailed. This did not ap­pear to be a case of en­joy­ing the jour­ney. “I wanted the holes to go by quickly,” Spi­eth said. “That’s the only time I could say that about my wins.”

At the heart of such un­easi­ness was the un­cer­tainty with his putting stroke on the greens of the TPC River High­lands. A nor­mal putting round, at least by his stan­dards, and there would have been no drama, no play­off and no cel­e­bra­tion that ended with Spi­eth sling­ing his sand wedge with his left hand (he’s a nat­u­ral south­paw), run­ning out of the bunker and col­lid­ing with cad­die Michael Greller.

The fact that Spi­eth had the 54-hole lead by one shot only ex­ac­er­bated the ten­sion he felt on the back nine. At stake was more than just a vic­tory, but the chance to build on his rep­u­ta­tion as a closer. That’s what Tiger Woods did bet­ter than any­one else. Win­ning is win­ning. Come­backs are cool. But great play­ers take pride in clos­ing.

“I take more pride in it be­cause I feel to­tally dif­fer­ent,” Spi­eth said. “I’m a lot more un­com­fort­able in the clos­ing sce­nario, play­ing with the lead. It’s more un­com­fort­able and makes it more chal­leng­ing. The ex­pec­ta­tion is as long as I play the same as th­ese guys, I win. If I’m not lead­ing and I don’t win, then it wasn’t my day.”

Don’t get the idea Spi­eth is a ner­vous wreck when lead­ing a tour­na­ment. He talks about chasing a ghost when he has the lead, which is a tar­get score, and that can be more dif­fi­cult than hav­ing to make up a deficit. “By un­com­fort­able, I don’t mean that in a neg­a­tive way,” he said. “I mean that in an added, rapid heart rate from when you wake up, which is un­com­fort­able. But I don’t want that to seem neg­a­tive, be­cause that’s the po­si­tion to be in.” He al­ready has been there 13 times.

Spi­eth isn’t big on com­par­isons with any­body, least of all Woods. That’s a good thing when it comes to clos­ing, be­cause there is no com­par­i­son.

Woods won at a 92 per­cent clip (57-5) when he had at least a share of the lead go­ing into the fi­nal round on the PGA Tour. That in­cludes a 3-1 mark for Match Play, which ef­fec­tively is the same as be­ing tied for the lead with one round to play.

With his vic­tory at Hart­ford, Spi­eth im­proved to 8-5. And what would he call that? “A phe­nom­e­nal rate,” he said. “I think 50 per­cent is an awe­some rate - 50 per­cent is fan­tas­tic.”

Spi­eth knows all about Woods and his records, and many of them would seem to be out of reach. What made him cu­ri­ous were the clos­ing marks of other Hall of Fame play­ers, such as Phil Mick­el­son, Ernie Els and Vi­jay Singh.

It would make him feel bet­ter about his own mark. Mick­el­son was 24-14 when he had at least a share of the lead go­ing into the fi­nal round, a rate of 63 per­cent. Singh was 18-14 (56 per­cent), which in­cluded a streak of con­vert­ing 11 straight times over three years (2002-04) when the big Fi­jian was at the top of his game. Els had the best rate (75 per­cent) with the fewest op­por­tu­ni­ties of those three. His record is 12-4, though that’s only on the PGA Tour.—AP

CROMWELL: In a Sun­day, June 25, 2017 file photo, Jor­dan Spi­eth hits off the 18th tee dur­ing a play­off in the fi­nal round of the Trav­el­ers Cham­pi­onship golf tour­na­ment, in Cromwell, Conn. —AP

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