PEBBLE BEACH (AP) — Jordan Spieth is trying to get back to the point that he stops thinking when he gets over a putt, and the AT&T National Pro-Am might provide the ideal environment for him.
Sure, it helps that Spieth is the defending champion. He seized control by taking only 10 putts on the back nine in the third round at Pebble Beach to build a six-shot lead, and he cruised home from there. He also has the right attitude for the poa annua greens that get plenty of footprints. He worries only about the right speed, and if the putts happen to bounce into the hole, then great.
The real advantage might be the other pro in his group. His partner for the fourth straight year, Dustin Johnson, rarely thinks at all.
“He sees a light pole out there and he just hits it at the light pole, and he normally hits the light pole,” Spieth said Wednesday. “And I’m out there going, ‘OK, I’m going to work a draw there because if I miss it right it’s in a better spot.”
Of all the issues Spieth should battle, putting would seem to be the least of his worries. He still doesn’t consider it a big concern.
Over time, typical of most players, the way he sets up over a putt has gotten a little out of sync. He found he was getting on hitting putts into the ground with his hands more forward than usual, which he said was opposite from his natural tendency that dates to when he first started playing as a junior.
“I just kind of got into a place that I hadn’t been before, and I’ve just got to get back into a comfortable setup position, and then everything will fall through from there,” he said. “The idea is just to stop thinking and just putt, and not having to worry about things. But that’s not the reality for a little while going forward here until I get to where when I set up over the putter, I’m seeing my lines.”
The proof is more in the statistics than the results.
Spieth said all week at Royal Birkdale that he wasn’t comfortable with his putting, and while it showed early in the final round when he lost a three-shot lead, he managed to deliver big moments down the stretch — birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie — to win the British Open.
He also had a stretch late last season of seven consecutive top 10s.
But going into Pebble Beach, he ranks 195th in the key putting statistic out of 206 players. So there is work to do.
What’s not lacking is his self-belief.
“I still believe that most of the guys ... you ask them who do they want putting on your team in a Ryder Cup, and I believe they would say my name,” Spieth said. “So I have no doubt in my abilities. Just going through a minor slump that is setup related.”
Spieth is part of a strong field at Pebble Beach that features one prominent newcomer — Rory McIlroy.
McIlroy, finally feeling healthy, has embarked on an ambitious schedule ahead of the Masters. He already had two chances to win in the Middle East on the European Tour. Pebble Beach is the start of a stretch in which the four-time major champion plans to play six times in the next seven weeks.
He knows the routine at Pebble having played seven times in the Dunhill Links on the European Tour. The biggest difference between the two — excluding the magnificent weather for the week — is how he feels about his game and his outlook.
“I feel like it’s the start of something and not the end of something,” McIlroy said. “I was just sort of ready to call it quits for the year after the Dunhill. With how dejected and wanting to get away from it I was then, to how rejuvenated and optimistic I am now, it feels a lot different that way.”
Johnson has a history at Pebble Beach, too, most of it good — in February, anyway.
He won in 2009 when rain wiped out the final round (Johnson had a four-shot lead over Mike Weir). He won the following year by getting up-and-down from the bunker on the 18th hole for a one-shot victory.
Johnson also had a three-shot lead that summer at Pebble in the U.S. Open, only to lose it all with a triple bogey on the second hole. He shot 82 that day.
Along with two victories in the AT&T, he has four other finishes in the top 5.
Johnson opened the year with an eight-shot victory at Kapalua and a tie for ninth in Abu Dhabi. He spent last week at Sherwood Country Club in Ventura County with Wayne Gretzky, and even went over to Las Vegas to see swing coach Butch Harmon. They didn’t do much work.
“I was swinging pretty good,” he said.