Jordan Spieth savoured starting 2016 by hitting “Hawaii Three-0” but insists it is “awfully early” to be compared to golfing greats Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
In what was quite a statement after questions had been posed about the task he faced in trying to back up a stellar 2015 season, Spieth turned the Hyundai Tournament of Champions into a procession as he claimed an eight-shot victory on the Plantation Course at Kapalua.
The 22-year-old closed with a six-under 67 to become only the second player in PGA Tour history to finish a 72-hole tournament at 30-under par or lower, falling one short of the record Ernie Els set in 2003.
It was Spieth’s seventh title triumph on the US circuit, joining Woods as the only players to get so many at the age of 22 since complete records began in 1970. But, while Spieth achieved the feat in his 77th start as a professional, Woods attained the same level of success in his 38th tournament and, moreover, he had 18 wins in his first 77 events – which is why Spieth was quick to play down comparisons with both Woods and Nicklaus, the game’s greatest player with 18 majors, as the world No 1 celebrated his astonishing start to a new year.
“I understand the comparisons are going to be there,” he said, referring specifically to Woods, “but it is awfully early. We’re excited about where we’re at to start our career. What Tiger has done, I can’t imagine ever being done. But it’s nice to be in that company. It’s fantastic being out here with what we’re trying to do, and doing it well.”
That is quite an understatement. The young Texan left the winners-only field in Maui trailing in his wake with rounds of 66, 64, 65 and 67. It was a breathtaking display and one that sets Spieth up nicely for his first showdown of 2016 with Rory McIlroy in the HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi next week.
“I didn’t think I would shoot 30-under, especially the first week of the year,” he admitted. “After playing practice rounds, I thought it would be somewhere around 20 or 21-under, so that part surprised me. I guess it makes a statement that, hey, the calendar changed, but we’re still there. This was a tournament where a lot of guys were knocking rust off and I felt like mine was already off.”
By the looks of things, Spieth has a putter that is too hot to ever be in danger of getting rusty.”I would rank my putting this week probably third, behind the Masters and Tour Championship last year,” he said, referring to events he won last year.
“It is huge to start your first tournament back and not really feel like you have to work much on putting, other than getting the speed down. I only missed a couple putts inside of 12 feet and it was nice to make quite a few more outside of that.
“I can say that my putting is ready for Masters to be next week. It’s a really good feeling to have that confidence with the flat stick, and I’ve just got to just dial in everything else just a little bit more.”
After his visit to the Middle East, Spieth heads to Asia for the Singapore Open before resuming his PGA Tour schedule in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am followed by the Northern Trust Open and Riviera in Los Angeles.
“My caddie [Michael Greller] said ‘way to make a statement’ as we were standing in the 18th fairway today and I thought that was cool,” said Spieth. “It’s not what I’m going for. It’s not why I do what I do. I don’t do it to talk back to any people that believe it’s not possible or ‘He got a lucky year’ or something. But, at the same time, I still think it’s going to be very difficult to have a year like last year.”
Having watched Spieth come flying out of the blocks, McIlroy will be keen to do likewise when he joins the American in Abu Dhabi next week to spearhead a fascinating opening event on this year’s “Desert Swing” on the European Tour.
It will be the 26-year-old’s first appearance since he finished the 2015 campaign by winning the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai in November and also since he underwent laser surgery to sharpen his vision.
“I’d been wearing glasses or contacts since I was quite young, so it’s great now not to have to worry about that,” McIlroy told the UAE newspaper, Sport360. “After the surgery, it was like a whole new world and I couldn’t believe how much better my eyesight was.
“I’m hoping it will impact my golf in a positive way and make everything a little bit sharper. It’s a really positive start to my season and hopefully it will give me early confidence coming to Abu Dhabi.”
In eight previous visits to Abu Dhabi Golf Club, the world No 3 has recorded six top-five finishes, including four as runner-up. “Hopefully I can shake all those second places and finally get my hands on that Falcon trophy,” he added. “It’d certainly be a great springboard to further success this year.”