Spi­eth putt-putts along

Chugs into lead at East Lake, sav­ing pars with mag­i­cal blade

SundayXtra - - SPORTS - By Doug Fer­gu­son

AT­LANTA — Jor­dan Spi­eth was so con­sumed with try­ing to make birdies and save pars on a rugged, rainy af­ter­noon at the Tour Cham­pi­onship he didn’t re­al­ize un­til af­ter he signed for a 2-un­der 68 he had a one-shot lead.

He knows ex­actly what’s at stake to­day in what is shap­ing up as a dy­namic end to the sea­son.

Spi­eth made four big par saves and ended with a 20-foot birdie to over­take Hen­rik Sten­son for the lead at East Lake. Al­ready with the best year in golf, the Mas­ters and U.S. Open cham­pion is now one round away from the rich­est year in golf history.

A vic­tory would push him over a record $12 mil­lion for the sea­son, and give him the $10-mil­lion bonus for win­ning the FedEx Cup.

“No mat­ter what, it’s a dream­come-true sea­son,” said Spi­eth, who was at 8-un­der 202. “So I don’t need to­mor­row to jus­tify it. I’m not go­ing to sit here and say $10 mil­lion doesn’t mean any­thing to me, be­cause it does. It’s a fan­tas­tic bonus that I don’t even know where it came from... but all of a sud­den they just want to give us more money. So it’s fine with me.

“I’ll work hard for the win be­cause I want to win this golf tour­na­ment,” he said. “It would be spe­cial to get your name on that tro­phy.”

He’s not the only one who feels that way. And he’s not the only with that chance.

Sten­son had another or­di­nary day by his stan­dards with his ball­strik­ing, though he held it to­gether for a 72. It was his first time in seven rounds Sten­son was over par, and the first time in his two trips to the Tour Cham­pi­onship he was no longer in the lead.

“We’re still at the races,” Sten­son said. “I would have liked to have gone a few bet­ter, but we’re still up there and yeah, it’s all go­ing to be de­cided to­mor­row.” Don’t over­look Rickie Fowler. He shot 31 on the back nine for a 67, the low score of the third round, and was four shots be­hind.

Spi­eth, Sten­son and Fowler are among the top five seeds in the FedEx Cup, and only have to win the Tour Cham­pi­onship to­day to claim the FedEx Cup.

Start­ing the FedEx Cup play­offs, Spi­eth al­ways knew that the Tour Cham­pi­onship was the only event that re­ally mat­tered for win­ning golf’s big­gest bonus. He looked at East Lake like the fi­nal ma­jor of the year, and it played like that Satur­day.

A light, steady rain made the course so long Sten­son had to hit fair­way me­tal twice into par 4s, and he couldn’t reach one of them. Spi­eth nar­rowly cleared the wa­ter to the lay-up zone on the par-5 ninth.

“What is that race called, ‘Tough Mud­der?’ That’s what it felt like,” Sten­son said. As tough it was in the third round, the FedEx Cup fi­nalé might be even more dif­fi­cult — if not be­cause of the course, then the com­pe­ti­tion and what’s at stake.

Six play­ers were sep­a­rated by five shots, which in­cludes Paul Casey (71) who was tied with Fowler at 4-un­der 206. Casey is un­likely to win the FedEx Cup and might have the least amount of pres­sure on him. Sten­son al­ready has four run­ner-up fin­ishes this year — two in the FedEx Cup play­offs — and is de­ter­mined to win.

“I’m very pleased with where we stand go­ing into to­mor­row, and Hen­rik’s go­ing to come back very strong,” Spi­eth said. “This was his off day, and so I’m go­ing to have to play even bet­ter.”

Spi­eth says he doesn’t feel any pres­sure at all. Win or lose, his year is tough to beat. But over the last two days, the 22-year- old Texan is look­ing like the guy who was tough to beat in the big­gest events this year.

He has made only two bo­geys all week, and he has pro­duced an ar­ray of amaz­ing par saves. The most timely were on Satur­day.

Spi­eth saved par with a long bunker shot on the par-3 sec­ond, and he got up-and-down from 70 yards on the par- 4 fifth hole, even af­ter blast­ing a driver and a 3-wood. He was four shots be­hind and in the front bunker on No. 8, a flat lie fac­ing a steep hill, and he had re­signed to make bo­gey. Sten­son was about 10 feet away for birdie. Spi­eth picked it clean and got up-and-down from five feet, while Sten­son missed.

“I could have easily been 3 over through eight,” Spi­eth said.

The other big save was on the 16th, when Spi­eth blocked it so badly off the tee he called out, “Holy, right!” It missed go­ing into the bushes by a foot, he drilled a line drive through the pine trees to the first cut, hit wedge to 20 feet and holed it for par.

“A mir­a­cle save on 16,” Sten­son called it.

Sten­son’s three-shot lead be­gan to van­ish with back-to-back bo­geys to start the back nine, and he fell into a tie with a bad miss on the 17th into a bunker that left him no choice but to play away from the flag about 25 feet away. The lead was gone when Spi­eth made his birdie on the fi­nal hole.

“It’s just like a ma­jor cham­pi­onship. That’s what it feels to me like out there,” Spi­eth said. “And we’re in another po­si­tion to do some fun stuff.”

JOHN AMIS / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Jor­dan Spi­eth hits out of a bunker to the sec­ond green dur­ing the third round of the Tour Cham­pi­onship at East Lake Golf Club Satur­day.

JOHN AMIS / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Hen­rik Sten­son hits off the 10th fair­way dur­ing Satur­day’s third round.

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