Jordan Spieth is once again seeing his name atop the leaderboard after surging in the third round of the Valero Texas Open, overcoming a ho-hum, even-par front nine to card five birdies on the back nine, including the final two holes, for a 5-under 67, good enough for a share of the lead with Englishman Matt Wallace, a four-time winner on the European Tour, who also fired a 5-under 67.
Spieth and Wallace played alongside second round leader Cameron Tringale, who suffered three consecutive bogeys on the back nine and finished the day with a one over par 73 at 8-under, four strokes back.
Spieth, who drew a loud and loyal gallery all day after a two hour-plus morning weather delay, has ignited fan interest as he emerges from a long slump. He’s now sporting a new old swing and the promise of an imminent return to the form that has eluded him since 2017.
I walked inside the ropes alongside Spieth and his caddie Michael Greller on Friday for an up-close appreciation of how much San Antonio golf fans want him to win. The occasional Aggie fan hollered, “Gig ’em!” and one oddball kept calling him “Tiger,” but otherwise it was all Longhorns urging on Spieth.
PGA Tour officials admonished me Saturday morning for slipping inside the ropes in violation of tour rules. As a golf fan rather than a golf writer, I was unaware my media credential required me to walk along with the gallery. I made the most of the opportunity, apologizing later.
A few kids, and a few adults with beers in hand, shouted some remarks that I’m glad didn’t come out of my mouth, but nothing rattled Spieth, who occasionally bantered back.
Spieth isn’t the only top golfer with an ardent fan base, but only Rory McIlroy in the post-Tiger Woods era debuted with the same sonic impact. Many of us want to see Spieth and McIlroy rediscover the magic they brought to the game in their early years on tour.
Golf craves big winners. Spieth’s Saturday round of 67, to go along with his opening 67 and second round 70, put him in the final group Sunday. The robust gallery he drew Saturday in all likelihood will be huge come Sunday.
Fans obviously want to see the popular Texan win the Texas Open and join past winners Jimmy Walker, Justin Leonard, Ben Crenshaw, Bill Rogers, and Lee Treviño. The Texas Open, which has been staged at eight different San Antonio courses over its 99-year history, is now the PGA Tour’s third oldest event. Legendary winners include the likes of Arnold Palmer, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, and Ben Hogan.
Charley Hoffman, the 2016 Texas Open winner, shot a 7-under 65 Saturday and briefly held the clubhouse lead at 8-under. He’ll go out in Sunday’s final threesome with Spieth and Wallace.
Spieth is looking for his first win on the tour since 2017. The Dallas native and University of Texas golf standout took the PGA Tour by storm, winning first as a teenager in 2013, and then recording one of the most memorable years in modern golf in 2015. He won the Masters and the U.S. Open before his 22nd birthday and then captured the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup. All in one year.
His back nine collapse at the 2016 Masters proved he was human, but he rebounded, nearly winning the FedEx Cup again in 2016 and 2017, and winning the 2017 British Open, his third major. By the end of the 2017 season, he had won 11 PGA Tour events.
Since then he has been winless, but four Top 10 finishes in his last six events this season suggest he is getting closer to regaining winning form. Spieth headed into the weekend trailing Tringale only by two strokes, leaving fans and golf writers buzzing.
Kevin Robbins, a PGATour.com writer, posted an article Friday that looked at Spieth’s efforts to go back to the flatter golf swing that propelled him to such early success.
“I’m really pleased with where things are at, but they’re not where I want them to be at,” Spieth said Friday. “I’m trying to kind of take it slowly and patiently and reward myself, be excited about the good ones and not get too down about the bad ones … I’m really just trying to go back in time structurally to a place that I’ve been.”
Walking inside the ropes, even at a discreet distance from Spieth and Greller, is a window into a golfer-caddie dynamic unlike any I’ve ever seen at a tour event. An errant tee shot by Spieth provokes a string of earnestly self-critical comments as he trails Greller down the fairway.
Greller, both caddie and therapist, listens when he needs to, responds when he needs to, always keeping Spieth focused on what’s next. When the shots succeed, the two men seem to celebrate as friends. Listening in is a golf clinic.
Spieth is resilient, remarkably able to scramble his way out of trouble. That was evident Friday on the 442-yard, par-4 10th hole at The Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio when Spieth pushed his drive right to the very edge of the cart path, putting some high tree canopy between him and the elevated green. His ball sat on hard dirt.
A young fan heckled him as he set up, which you can read about and view in this Golf.com account by Nick Piastowski. Spieth ignored the taunt and lofted a shot into a favorable left-right wind to leave his ball pin high and just off the green. He parred the hole.
Later, Spieth nearly holed out a chip on the 17th, rattling the pin and leaving his ball mere inches away. Spieth and Greller shared a laugh when a fan jokingly yelled out that Greller should have run up and pulled the pin.
Spieth’s second round was like others he’s carded lately. He started quickly with birdies on the first two holes, as Tringale struggled at the start. Spieth was five shots back on the first tee, three shots back on the second tee, and only two shots back as he stepped on to the third tee.
Tringale recovered with an impressive string of birdies after two opening bogeys, and Spieth stumbled a bit with bogeys on 11 and 13. But he followed with birdies at 14 and 15 and headed into a rainy Saturday with momentum and a late tee time.
Then, on Saturday, the tables seemed to turn after Spieth rallied with his first birdie of the day to close out the front nine. Tringale lost momentum, as Spieth and Wallace found their A games.
Next week is a return to Augusta National and the first major of the season. A win in Texas would place Spieth in distinguished golf company in the Lone Star State, and leave little doubt that he is back.