HE’S making it look like a Spieth of cake. Sorry, I know that sounds corny, but it sums up perfectly what Jordan Spieth has accomplished here over the last two days.
The 21-year-old Texan has carded rounds of 64 and 66. His 14-under-par total is a new record at the halfway stage, beating a benchmark set by Raymond Floyd that had stood since 1976. It is also now the lowest total to par at the same stage in major history and ties the lowest score, too.
“What has happened in the last couple of days doesn’t mean anything unless I can close it out”Jordan Spieth
Heading into the weekend, Spieth is five shots clear of fellow American Charley Hoffman (67, 68), with English duo Justin Rose (67, 70) and Paul Casey (69, 68) as well another home player, Dustin Johnson (70, 67), sharing joint-third on seven-under.
In 36 holes, Spieth has only had one blemish - from the middle of the 15th fairway in the first round. He’s been majestic. Just as Tiger Woods was in his hey-day. Rory McIlroy at times, too, in his young career.
Joint-second on his debut 12 months ago - he led at one point in the final round before being overhauled by Bubba Watson - the on-form Spieth looks as though he’s got one arm in the Green Jacket. He knows, however, that leading at halfway - especially here - can count for nothing.
“It’s great to get off to a great start and have a chance to control my destiny in this golf tournament,” he said. “What has happened the last couple days doesn’t mean anything, though, unless I can close it out.”
While all eyes were on career Grand Slam-chasing McIlroy - Woods as well, though not necessarily in terms of a potential winner - coming into this event, no-one has been in better form over the past few months than Spieth. He’s never looked back, really, since winning the Australian Open towards the end of last year, when he also won Woods’ invitational event. In his last three outings, he’s finished first-second-second.
“I’ve been making a good amount of short to mid‑range putts and that’s certainly been the key so far,” admitted Spieth, who played on a losing Ryder Cup team at Royal Aberdeen in 2011. “If you miss a couple of those, it’s tough to regain the confidence out here.”
Looking ahead to the weekend, he acknowledged that he can’t afford to become complacent. “Charley is playing some great golf,” he said. “After him there’s a group of major championship winners and contenders and guys that have been in the ropes and know what to do on the weekend. The second your mind wanders out here is when you get bit.”
One of Spieth’s playing partners over the first two days believes he’s going to be difficult to catch. “He’s very impressive,” said world No 2 Henrik Stenson after overcoming a bout of bronchitis to card a brace of 73s only to be among those left trailing in Spieth’s wake. “The strongest part of his game is his putting and pitching. He’s made so many great putts over the last couple of days. Even the really hard Augusta putts, he’s been rolling them in.
“He’s obviously coming here with some great form and he’s taking his chances. He’s got an old head on young shoulders because he’s playing very sensibly, very maturely. When he does make a mistake, he hits a great recovery shot. He’s in a great position and it’s his to lose from here.”
It would be fitting, of course, if Spieth claimed his first Green Jacket in the same week as his fellow Texan and two-times winner, Ben Crenshaw, is making his last appearance in the event. According to Crenshaw, Spieth reminds him of a man who fired bullets rather than birdies. “I’ll never forget the first time I met him,” he said. “I looked right at him and he looked at me and I thought I was looking at Wyatt Earp. He just had that look about him.”
Speaking like a proud father, Crenshaw added: “I think the world of him and he’s way more mature than I was at 21. He has an innate ability to score and and of the really wonderful things I like about him is that he’s got competitive fire.”
Like Spieth, Hoffman is playing here for only the second time. Most years his two opening efforts would probably have earned him the lead - but not on this occasion. The 38-year-old is determined, though, to try and apply some pressure on Spieth when they are paired in the penultimate round.
“Jordan’s playing great golf, but sometimes you get in the lead and you maybe change your game plan a little bit,” said Hoffman, a three-times PGA Tour winner. “I’ll just kept my game plan and keep trying to make birdies. I feel good about my game and where it’s going.”
Rose, the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open champion, bounced back from dropping three shots in the first four holes to stay near the top of the leaderboard, where he was joined by Johnson after a round that contained three eagles - a record for this event. “I think that’s the first time I’ve ever made three eagles in a round,” he confessed. “It was pretty special and it was a lot of fun, too.”
As was the back nine for both Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy. Mickelson, a three-times winner, came home in 32 to sign for a 68, putting him sixth on his own on six-under - one ahead of Ernie Els (72). McIlroy, chasing his career Grand Slam, went one better for the inward journey, the highlight of which was a majestic approach that set up an eagle at the 13th. Having gone out in 40, though, the fightback was more to avoid missing the cut than getting himself into serious contention.
“I wish I didn’t need to play back nine like that,” admitted the world No 1. “I was wasteful on the front nine, missing couple of short putts. I’m proud of myself the way I fought back, but I’m going to need four more nines like that to have a chance.
“It was nice to get some momentum into the weekend, but I need to go out in the morning and shoot a low one as Jordan has played phenomenal and doesn’t look as though he’s going to let up. I’ve left myself an uphill battle but I will be giving it my best shot.”
Also 12 behind are defending champion Bubba Watson (71) and Tiger Woods. That’s surely asking too much for the latter to leave here tomorrow night with his fifth Green Jacket. However, to have comfortably made the cut - it fell at two-over - after a second-round 69 that contained a solitary bogey is a praiseworthy accomplishment for the former world No 1 given the horrendous state his game was in before taking a two-month break prior to playing here. “I’m very proud of what I’ve done, to be able to dig it out the way I have,” he said.
Among those to miss the cut were US Open Martin Kaymer and two-times winner Tom Watson, whose 81 was ten shots more than his opening effort. “It’s like a thermos,” said Watson on golf. “Sometimes it’s hot, sometimes it’s cold.”
There were also early exits for Scottish trio Sandy Lyle, Bradley Neil and Stephen Gallacher, the latter suffering the agony of missing out by one shot after a second-round 76. “It was a great 76 as I drove it terrible,” he said after holing a five-foot par putt at the last. “I fought hard the last five holes.”
There was no dream farewell for Crenshaw as he signed off with an 85 to finish last on 32-over. He was overcome with emotion, though, after holing out at Augusta National for the last time in front of his family and fans. “I feel like I’ve won the tournament,” he admitted afterwards.
The official handing over of the Texan baton in this event could now take place if Spieth maintains his sparkling form to come out on top tomorrow night.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS