Column: Spieth's scuffling shouldn't last long

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A frequent visitor to the Golf Channel website, I didn’t notice the ad posted there until late in the night on Masters Sunday, after the tournament produced an unlikely champion and an unforgettable meltdown.

“At the Masters, your golf ball has to do everything,” the ad said.

Among the testimonials from other pros, a two-time major champion offered this: “I need it to perform in the unpredictable wind on 12,” the short but sinister par-3 where so many dreams have drowned. 

That player? 

Jordan Spieth. Cue the irony.

His second green jacket just several holes away, Spieth shockingly deposited two underperforming Titleists in the water at 12 for a quadruple-bogey. Within 50 minutes, a five-stroke lead became an insurmountable deficit, and some wondered after the loss how much recovery time his game and ego would need.

At the Players two weeks ago, Spieth — after a well-publicized Bahamas vacation — missed the cut and was caught sniping at his caddy following a poor shot. Such is the world of golf, with no timeouts and nowhere to hide when things go sideways.

The sport seems so intent on identifying the next global megastar that young champions like Spieth don’t have the luxury of an off-week or two without hearing whispers they will never match the impossible on-course standards Tiger Woods set. By the same token, a month-long run of outstanding play may prompt observers to prematurely anoint Tiger’s long-term successor.

That’s a lot to handle for Spieth, already a U.S. Open champion as well and dealing with outsized expectations at just 22. 

The caddy conflict aside, the way he handles himself in such a fishbowl — pleasant, polite, respectful — makes him easy to pull for and a fan favorite. Though he is No. 2 to Australian Jason Day on the world ladder, America has an exemplary representative for its highest-ranked player.

Spieth’s mixed bag of a season continued last weekend at his hometown Byron Nelson Classic, where he started the final round two shots off the pace yet finished in a tie for 18th. His scores kept rising as the tournament advanced, a Sunday 74 following 64, 65 and 67.

Sure, this year’s Masters will always be referred to as one Spieth let get away, one he will always remember regardless of how his career plays out. But to predict how much scar tissue it will leave misses the point of how lucky golf is to have him and much time he has to add to his accomplishments. 

A seven-time PGA Tour champion by the age many are graduating from college, Spieth is on the short list of favorites in any tournament. His last five major placings read first, first, tie for fourth, second and a tie for second, and in three Masters, he has never finished worse than a tie for second. 

That record doesn’t suggest someone who lets disappointment linger very long. It shouldn’t surprise anyone to see him atop many leaderboards this season, whatever struggles he’s going through now becoming a distant memory.

And have I mentioned he’s just 22?

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