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Spieth’s slump continues as poor start at Masters results in 75

- TIM COWLISHAW wtcowlisha­

AUGUSTA, Ga. — This is such a wonderful place to state your case as one of the world’s great golfers. Jordan Spieth, winner of the 2015 Masters and a top3 finisher four out of five times, knows plenty about that.

But Augusta National is a hell of a place to try to find a missing golf game, and that’s what Spieth attempted here Thursday. It was painful to watch for nine holes as he made the turn at 40 before scrambling to a few pars and finally settling down with a 3overpar 75. That matches his worst score here, one he shot twice in 2017 when he came in 11th, his only finish outside the top 10.

Getting anywhere near the top 10 in 2019 is going to be a challenge, and that’s not to dismiss his chances on this layout. If that was done in this space a year ago (actually Spieth was the one who said he was out of it Saturday before firing 64 on Sunday), it won’t be duplicated. But Spieth’s best finish this season is 30th in San Antonio last week, and his missed cuts and lousy stats say that — until further notice — he simply isn’t the golfer who earned his stripes in this magical major.

Spieth had plenty to say here Tuesday, basing his high expectatio­ns on a suspect claim. “I feel great about the state of my game right now,” he said.

It’s impossible to know what that would have been based on, and there is no measuring his disappoint­ment Thursday. He was expected to appear in the “Quick Quotes” area behind the 18th green before a Masters spokesman came over to tell the

small gathering, “Jordan declined.”

Spieth threeputte­d the first hole, and that could have summed up his poor showing if there weren’t so many errant shots to come. Whatever it was that allowed Spieth to feel he could drain putts of any length here for several years, that confidence has gone away. He ranks 172nd out of 214 golfers in threeputt avoidance this season.

Errant tee shots have been an even larger problem. Spieth ranks a difficultt­obelieve 212 out of 214 in fairways hit, missing more than half. He kept a few 3woods in the short grass but missed wildly on several holes. His fade right on the downhill 10th where a draw is imperative brought an “Oh Jordan ... what are you doing?” from Spieth. It got worse when he pushed his drive on the par5 13th deep into the pine straw — another turnleft hole where Spieth flew right — prompting a “My dear lord, Jordan. What the hell are you doing?”

His fans in Dallas and around the world can only wonder.

If not for sand saves, recoveries from behind greens and a nifty birdie on the par3 16th, Spieth would have opened with something far worse than a 75. As it was, he was playing alongside Brooks Koepka, coleader after Round 1 at 66.

In fact, with the exception of interloper Ian Poulter and his 68, the top of the board is peopled with Spieth’s powerhitti­ng Ryder Cup teammates. Bryson Dechambeau finished with four straight birdies to match Koepka’s 66, while Phil Mickelson shot 67 and Dustin Johnson 68.

It was a day for good scores to be had, even if they mostly arrived late, given the warm sun and the soft greens after so much rain earlier in the week. The course will get tougher one way or another Friday, and maybe that’s what will ignite Spieth. He tends to be at his best when others aren’t enjoying a birdie blitz.

But it will require more than fixing a loose driver on the practice range Friday. Spieth’s worst tee shot of the day came on the par3 sixth when he missed the green at least 15 yards to the right and 20 yards short. His next shot didn’t make the green, either, and he ended up with a double bogey on a hole that he had bogeyed once in 20 previous rounds here.

There are all kinds of numbers that tell you how great Spieth has been at the Masters. Even now, he has had at least a share of first place after nine of the 21 rounds played. But here are the more shocking numbers.

After never shooting over par his first two Masters when he finished second in 2014 and tied Tiger Woods’ scoring record in 2015, Spieth has been over par in seven out of 13 rounds. His disintegra­tion with the lead on Amen Corner in 2016 may not haunt him personally, but a poor round is no longer unusual.

At 3 over par, Spieth’s ahead of 15 of the 87 golfers gathered here. It’s going to take the greatest Spieth magic of all to propel him back to the leaderboar­ds here this weekend.

 ?? Andrew Redington/getty Images ?? Jordan Spieth reacts on the 13th green. He made a 5 on the hole, one of his eight pars on the back nine, but could not overcome a frontnine 40 and finished with a 75.
Andrew Redington/getty Images Jordan Spieth reacts on the 13th green. He made a 5 on the hole, one of his eight pars on the back nine, but could not overcome a frontnine 40 and finished with a 75.
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