Planet Golf — 12 February 2021 by GW staff and news services
Spieth uses eagle to take 2-shot lead

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — One swing put Jordan Spieth closer than ever to ending a long and mystifying slump, and served as a reminder that he still has a long road ahead at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

Two shots behind with three holes to play Saturday, Spieth holed out with an 8-iron from 160 yards for eagle on the 16th hole, the start of a stunning turnaround that sent him to a 1-under 71 and a two-shot lead going into the final round.

Daniel Berger helped out by going from a share of the lead to two shots behind when his tee shot on the par-5 18th was out-of-bounds by mere inches and led to a double bogey.

“It’s a good lesson to learn for tomorrow, how quickly things can change out here,” Spieth said.

The timing was ideal for Spieth, who has been without a victory worldwide in his last 79 events since he won the 2017 British Open at Royal Birkdale.

He led by two shots at the turn only to miss the green and make bogey at the 10th and 12th, and then bail out of a tough wedge to a back pin on the par-5 14th that spun off the green for another bogey.

The pin on the 16th was cut to the left on a severely pitched green, and it was perfect.

“With the wind in off the right and a little mud on the right side of the ball, I knew I could throw it out to the right and let kind of the wind and the mud do most of the work,” Spieth said. “In the air I thought it was going to be really good. It was one of the only shots I kind of said, ‘Oh, be good’ on today. Certainly a bonus for it to drop.

These moments used to happen when Spieth was winning all the time. This was the second time this week he holed out from the fairway, and now he is on the cusp of winning again.

Spieth was at 13-under 203 with plenty of contenders right behind.

Berger called over an official for a linear measure of his ball on the 18th, against the hedges but inside the white disks that mark out-of-bounds. He still had a 72 and was two shots behind.

“I’m still two shots out of the lead, so I feel pretty good about my chances going into tomorrow and drop a few more putts and it will be a good week,” he said.

Patrick Cantlay, whose third round began with such promise when he hit 8 feet for eagle, birdied the 18th for a 70 and joined Berger two shots out of the lead. Tom Hoge (68) and Russell Knox (69) also were two shots behind.

This is the second straight week Spieth has had at least a share of the lead. A week ago in the Phoenix Open, he couldn’t make any putts and closed with a 72 to finish two shots behind.

Even so, this is considered a body of work — seven straight rounds of good scoring, and this week doing it while mostly keeping the ball in play.

He expects there to be nerves, just like always. He’s equally excited about the process as the position.

“I don’t really care about the time frame stuff,” he said about the 43-month drought. “I’m really just going to throw that out of my head because I’m finally consistently doing things over the last two weeks that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I think, obviously, the more you continue to do that, the bounces go your way, like the hole-out did today on 16.

“Someone may do that to me tomorrow or come shoot a 64 or something. I mean, it’s golf and it’s Pebble Beach.”

His goal was to set a target and go get it, realizing that his game is still not as complete as when he was winning often and regularly contending in majors.

“It’s working that direction, but it’s not there yet,” he said. “I’m just trying to have it feel a little bit better than yesterday.”

Jason Day was very much in the mix, too, after a 68 left him in the group at 10-under 206. Paul Casey stayed three shots behind with a great break on the 18th when his tee shot tumbled down onto the rocks, but had a flat enough lie he could hit off the rock back into the fairway. He shot 71.

Maverick McNealy had a 69 that included a penalty shot behind the fifth green when his ball moved right as he set the club behind the ball.

Spieth didn’t have to contend with what he predicted to be a “mean” day at Pebble Beach. The rain in the forecast was gone by the time he teed off. The raging wind was more of a stiff breeze along the ocean holes that Pebble gets all the time, though it was no less challenging coming back into it on the back nine.

No rain was in the forecast, just typical Pacific wind on a course where it all can change quickly.

SECOND ROUND

PEBBLE BEACH, Ca. — Patrick Cantlay looked just as good Thursday at Pebble Beach as the last round he played 18 days ago.

Jordan Spieth looked as good as his last tournament, too.

Coming off a 61 in the California desert followed by at two-week break, Cantlay opened with seven birdies in eight holes and closed with two straight birdies for a 10-under 62. That tied the course record at Pebble Beach last matched 24 years ago by David Duval, and it gave Cantlay a two-shot lead in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

“I feel like I’m in a groove right now,” Cantlay said.

Henrik Norlander and 19-year-old Akshay Bhatia were at 64. Bhatia hit all 18 of the small greens at Pebble Beach, the first player to do that at Pebble since Ryan Palmer in 2008.

Spieth moved another round closer to some kind of a groove. He tied for fourth last week in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, his best finish since May 2019 at the PGA Championship. Spieth holed out a wedge on the 10th hole for eagle and finished with three birdies over his last five holes for a 65.

It helped being at Pebble Beach, typically the easier course when the weather is dry and relatively calm. Only one of the leading 10 scores was at Spyglass Hill. That came from Will Gordon, who shot a 66. Spyglass played two shots harder.

“Today you needed to step on the gas pedal and take advantage,” Spieth said. And then he considered that his 65 was only good enough for a tie for fourth with Nate Lashley.

“I got bested by three today,” Spieth said. “I’m going to have to keep my foot on the gas.”

Rain was in the forecast overnight and possibly lingering into Friday before returning early in the weekend.

Without spectators and without amateurs this year, the tournament is using only two courses instead of three. It was more exposed than usual without grandstands behind the sixth green and overlooking the picturesque par-3 seventh.

And the pace of play, with three pros instead of a foursome of pros and amateurs, was quicker.

Low scores at Pebble Beach start with good weather and taking advantage of the front nine, and Cantlay had both of those going for him. He one-putted every green on the front nine, and capped off a stretch of four straight birdies with a 7-iron that landed next to the hole on No. 8 and left him a fast 6-footer for birdie.

The finish also was impressive, with a 7-iron that settled about 7 feet below the hole on the par-3 17th, and a nifty wedge from right of the 18th green for an up-and-down and his 10th birdie.

“I think we got Pebble in pretty much ideal conditions and I don’t think it’s going to be like that the rest of the week,” Cantlay said. “The greens were good this morning and receptive, and so I hit a lot of good shots just right out of the gate and made everything. I didn’t have very many long putts, but the mid-range putts that I did have I made all of them.”

Tom Kite also had a 62 at Pebble Beach when he won in 1983. Duval was runner-up when he had a 62 in 1997.

Bhatia has been relying on sponsor exemptions since the former Junior PGA champion decided to turn pro right out of high school. He also was at Pebble, starting on the back nine and making his surge late in the round. His last birdie was an approach over a corner of the ocean to 3 feet on the par-4 eighth hole, and he made a 6-footer for par on the ninth.

“Hitting 18 greens out here with the greens being small helps,” he said with a smile.

Phil Mickelson, a five-time champion at this event, opened with a 74 at Spyglass and will have to hope for equally decent weather at Pebble Beach to make the cut.

While Spyglass was tougher, nearly half the 156-man field courses broke par, and one-third of the players shot in the 60s. The courses were susceptible to good scoring, especially Pebble Beach, and it was important for Spieth to find some momentum he has been lacking since his last win at the 2017 Open Championship.

He was tied for the 54-hole lead in Phoenix and shot 72 to finish two behind. He’s right back in the mix at Pebble Beach, where he won in 2017

“Pebble presents a lot of precision and you’ve got to really trust what you’re doing,” Spieth said. “When the conditions were going to be easier today, you needed to kind of shoot a low round and make sure you’re in this tournament because it’s going to be a grind the next few days.”

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