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It has been an incredible year for Jordan Spieth. The Texan became the talk of the golf world after his back-to-back wins at the Travelers Championship and The Open Championship, banking over $6 million by the end of the PGA Tour’s regular season.
Given that success, Spieth was expected to be a major force in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, and so far, he’s delivered. While he missed out on the winner’s circle in the first two postseason events, the 24-year-old three-time major champion has remained at the top of his game, shooting seven rounds in the 60s en route to consecutive runner-up finishes and sole possession of the points lead.
In keeping with his flair for the dramatic, Spieth’s pole position is important – through the first 10 FedEx Cups, the points lead was always held by a postseason winner through Labor Day weekend.
But by coming up just short in the first two tournaments, Spieth is making a bid at becoming a different kind of champion as the PGA Tour’s season-long competition enters its second decade.
It started with the playoffs’ opening event, the Northern Trust. Spieth held a three-shot lead at the start of the final round, but his closest pursuer, Dustin Johnson, pulled off an impressive comeback thanks to some late heroics, including a clutch par save on the 18th hole of regulation and an incredibly aggressive tee shot in sudden death.
With the win, Johnson assumed the top spot in the standings, but the masher couldn’t get out of his own way at last week’s Dell Technologies Championship, posting a pair of over-par rounds en route to a tie for 18th. Spieth, meanwhile, didn’t waste any time crying over his playoff loss, finishing the event with three straight sub-70 rounds.
That still wasn’t enough to hold off longtime pal Justin Thomas, last month’s PGA champion at Quail Hollow. Thomas sprang into contention with a 63 on moving day, and while both friends had a chance to take the trophy on Sunday afternoon, it was Thomas who managed to hold steady under pressure and cruise to the three-shot win.
Spieth made some small but meaningful errors on the back nine and had to settle for another second-place finish.
But even if he goes winless for the rest of the season, Spieth is pleased about the state of his game, and the results have been plain to see.
“I’m hitting the ball as good or better consistently as I’ve ever hit it,” he said after the tournament. “And my putter, it’s starting to come around….I’ve putted so much better from inside 10 feet this week than I have this entire year. It’s a big confidence boost for me, so it’s very close. I’m very close to the level I played in 2015.”
It’s hard to forget Spieth’s sterling 2015 campaign, during which he won both the Masters and the U.S. Open for the first major titles of his career. He finished that season on a high note: with the FedEx Cup in hand.
A win at next week’s BMW Championship would assure Spieth of the top spot in the standings heading into the final event of the season, the Tour Championship. The points leader features prominently in most of the scenarios at the Tour Championship – in addition to being able to clinch the FedEx Cup with a victory, he can also put himself in winning position with a merely solid finish (for a full list of scenarios, look here. The golfers will be different, but the criteria for each position are the same).
It’s been a full eight years since the last time the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup were won by different people, but if we know one thing about Spieth, it’s that he’s not afraid to tread where few have gone before. Victory through non-victory would be improbable, but also completely in character.
The PGA Tour is off this week. The FedEx Cup Playoffs will resume next Thursday with the BMW Championship at Conway Farms.