Jordan Spieth, still searching at Augusta, stumbles to the clubhouse

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Three days before teeing off to start his sixth Masters, Jordan Spieth was hanging out in his rental house waiting for Virginia-Texas Tech to tip off. The Golf Channel was replaying his monumental runaway 2015 win, and Spieth took the chance to relive the finest moments of his pro career.

“It was the highest of highs I’ve had in this sport,” Spieth said Tuesday.

It’s now Thursday; Jordan Spieth is hacking away at Augusta like he’s trying to carve through a bamboo forest; and man, 2015 seems like a long time ago.

On an afternoon when the leaders carved up Augusta National like a wedding cake, Spieth floundered. While his playing partner Brooks Koepka took charge of the tournament, finishing tied for first with Bryson DeChambeau at 6-under, Spieth stumbled and staggered, ending nine strokes back at 3-over.

As a onetime golden child, Spieth’s got something very close to diplomatic immunity in Augusta. He’ll draw crowds and cheers no matter where he goes. (The cheer that accompanied his tap-in to close out Thursday’s round wasn’t all that much softer than the cheer that welled up when Patrick Reed won the entire tournament last year.)

But there’s an element of pleading in the cheers, fans — patrons, in the case of Augusta National — all too aware of the way that Spieth’s career has hit a sandbar. You’ll hear “Let’s go Jordan!” and “Come on Jordan!” and “Hook ‘em!” (a nod to Spieth’s Texas lineage) every hole he plays. And when the cheers veer close to pity, it’s got to be frustrating as hell.

Not a great day for Jordan Spieth on the links. (AP)

Spieth spends half his time on the golf course talking to his ball — pleading, cajoling, encouraging, his face wavering between disappointment and dejection. “Come on,” he called out after his tee shot on 17, “work with me, ball!” The ball — which these days is about as obedient as a new puppy — didn’t listen to him, ending up behind a small stand of pines.

Here’s the worst part: stats suggest that this might be as good as it gets for Spieth this week. His scores drop off a cliff once the weekend rolls around; his scoring averages go from 16th and 14th on Tour for Thursday and Friday, respectively, to 205th and 208th.

Much of that falloff has to do with Spieth’s putting; he goes from one of the best putters in the game during the week (ranking third on Thursdays, second on Fridays) to one of the absolute worst (186th on Saturdays, 127th on Sundays).

It’s all part of a run that’s gone from sequence to pattern. Spieth hasn’t won a tournament anywhere on earth since knocking off Matt Kuchar in 2017 at the Open Championship. He’s plummeted to 33rd in the world golf rankings. He’s made the cut at only 7 of 10 events this season, and hasn’t placed any higher than T30 in a stroke-play event.

Which brings us to Thursday. The leaders were dropping strokes on the back nine like Steph Curry burying threes — DeChambeau and Mickelson lopped five strokes off their cards in just seven holes, Koepka five over nine holes — Spieth could only manage a single birdie over the final 10 holes.

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AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 11: Tiger Woods of the United States looks on from the 15th green during the first round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 11, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 11: A gallery of patrons look on while Tiger Woods of the United States walks across the 16th green during the first round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 11, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 11: Xander Schauffele of the United States chips to the 13th green during the first round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 11, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 11: Tiger Woods of the United States plays a shot from a bunker on the second hole during the first round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 11, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Jon Rahm, of Spain, hits out of the bunker on the 16th hole during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Billy Horschel flips his club on the fourth hole during the first round for the Masters golf tournament Thursday, April 11, 2019, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, hits from the rough on the first hole during the first round for the Masters golf tournament Thursday, April 11, 2019, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 12: Tyrrell Hatton of England reacts to a putt on the 18th green during the second round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 12, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 12: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland jumps across Rae's Creek on the 13th hole during the second round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 12, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 11: Bryson DeChambeau of the United States reacts on the 15th green during the first round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 11, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 11: Tyrrell Hatton of England reacts on the 13th green during the first round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 11, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 14: Tiger Woods of the United States plays a shot from the 12th tee during the final round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 14, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 14: Tiger Woods of the United States plays his shot from the third tee during the final round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 14, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 14: Brooks Koepka of the United States crosses the Sarazen Bridge on the 15th hole during the final round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 14, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 14: Tiger Woods of the United States celebrates after sinking his putt to win during the final round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 14, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Tiger Woods reacts as he wins the Masters golf tournament Sunday, April 14, 2019, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
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Clearly it wasn’t the round he wanted — the usually media-friendly Spieth declined to talk about his round afterward.

Spieth and Koepka created an unintentional metaphor as they walked up the 18th fairway together. They were side by side, matching stride for stride, until Spieth stopped 288 yards from the tee. Koepka, who’s won three of the last seven majors, kept on walking another 30 yards closer to the pin. Spieth won’t ever be an afterthought at Augusta — the green jacket takes care of that — but the spotlight’s shining a lot brighter on other players right now.

“I feel like I’m on the rise right now,” Spieth insisted Tuesday. “I don’t think I need results to prove anything otherwise. I know where my game is at, and I know that good things are coming soon.”

Maybe so. Just not yet.

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