Jordan Spieth's first competitive round at Bay Hill was a very typical Jordan Spieth round
Despite his recent form, the consensus this week—at least among those who have a financial interest in the Arnold Palmer Invitational—was that Jordan Spieth would hit a mini road bump in his comeback tour. Having never played in the tournament before, plus carrying a faulty driver, spelled doom at Bay Hill, where there’s trouble everywhere, especially off the tee.
It’s only 18 holes, but so far Spieth is silencing those doubters, the latest sign that this revival is for real. The three-time major champ opened with a two-under 70 on Thursday, putting him four off the lead in a tie for 15th.
Spieth started his round on the back nine and got off to a three-under-through-seven-holes start, highlighted by making a 20-footer for eagle at the par-5 16th. He bogeyed the 18th, but got that stroke back by sticking an approach to seven feet at the par-4 third, then making the birdie putt.
Things, however, got very Spieth-y at the par-4 fifth, where he had just 72 yards to the hole after a booming drive. But his approach out of the rough went long, and he made a messy bogey from there. Then, with a chance to get one back at the par-5 sixth, he hit one in the drink to make another bogey. Oof.
“I just hit it so far off the toe on 6 and hit it in the water and it’s just two strokes back and you just can’t make that mistake,” Spieth said after the round. “So that was frustrating.”
Once the king of the bounce back during his peak, Spieth promptly bounced back, burying a 32-foot birdie bomb at the 201-yard par-3 seventh.
“Definitely proud of the way I responded,” he said. “But with, I think, the total way I putted today, certainly would have liked a lower number. But it all just comes down to one shot for me today.”
In other words, Spieth’s first competitive round at Bay Hill was about as Spieth as it gets. Here’s hoping we’re treated to three more.
Here are three other takeaways from the opening round of the API.
Give us the Bryson-Rory show, please
Due to the tournament’s awkward spot on the 2020-21 schedule, the Bay Hill field is noticeably weaker than in recent years. Mind you, the first-round leader board says different, though, with Rory McIlroy (World No. 8) tied for the lead with a six-under 66 and Bryson DeChambeau (World No. 11) one stroke back. We all make the mistake of putting too much into one round every week (see above), but boy, who would say no to these two going at it over the weekend? For them to go toe-to-toe on Sunday, McIlroy’s putter needs to stay hot and DeChambeau needs to keep doing what he’s been doing for a year-plus now: rank first in the field in strokes-gained/off-the-tee, like he did on Thursday.
Shocker alert: Great drivers, iron players are in the mix
Surprise, surprise, long and straight usually plays well at Bay Hill, which is why the leader board looks the way it does after 18 holes. And we’re not just talking about McIlroy and DeChambeau. Corey Conners, who is known for his elite iron play. And on Thursday he shot 66 to match McIlroy thanks to that trusty iron play; Conners gained an insane 5.562 strokes on approach, which ranks first in the field.
After Conners, McIlroy and DeChambeau, it’s a who’s who of premium ball-strikers, including the scorching hot Matt Fitzpatrick, fellow Englishman Lee Westwood, Sungjae Im, Viktor Hovland and Keegan Bradley, all of whom are at three under. CJ Cup winner Jason Kokrak, Byeong Hun An and Sebastian Munoz check in just above that group at four under.
The struggle continues for Rickie Fowler
A sneaky top-20 finish at Riviera, coupled with the good vibes at Bay Hill, where he’s played well historically, plus the fact he needs to get it going ASAP, all surely pointed to a big week ahead for Rickie. A first-round 76 promptly spoiled any comeback party, as Fowler continued to struggle mightily, mainly with his irons and putter, the two strengths of his game throughout his career. He lost nearly 1.5 strokes on approach on Thursday (97th in the field) and lost more than 2.5 strokes putting (113th in the field), which, um, ain’t going to get it done.
He’s committed to the process, which is commendable, and it’s something that’s paying dividends for his good buddy Jordan Spieth right now, but he simply has to start producing results soon or he will not be at Augusta National in April. Hard to believe, given he hasn’t missed a Masters in a decade, but it’s the harsh reality at the moment. The good news is that he did chip in for birdie on 18, and if he can work it back to one over or even par on Friday, he can still make the weekend. Positive vibes only.