AUGUSTA, Ga.—Jordan Spieth has turned this 79th Masters into a limbo contest.
How low can he go?
For the second consecutive day, the baby-faced Texan made Augusta National’s old-school leaderboards bleed red. When the massacre was over, Spieth signed for a six-under 66, which paired with his opening, one-shy-of-the-course-record 64, broke the 36-hole Masters scoring mark Raymond Floyd set in 1976. Spieth’s nearest challenger, Charley Hoffman, is five shots back.
There are still two more rounds to play, an eternity in this azalea-lined pressure- cooker, but the mind can’t help but wander to Butler Cabin on Sunday evening. Should Spieth shoot five under over the next two days, he would eclipse Tiger Woods’s fabled 18-under mark from 1997. A pair of 69s and Spieth would finish at an unthinkable 268—aka, 20 under par. Rest easy, Tommy Armour III, your 72-hole PGA Tour scoring record of 254 is safe. We think.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Spieth certainly isn’t.
After 15 birdies, a lone bogey and not a single three-putt over 36 holes, you could forgive the youngster if he wanted to cartwheel down Magnolia Lane to clink celebratory pint glasses at the Hooters on Washington Road. But that sort of impetuous behavior is not in Spieth’s DNA. He’s 21 going on 41.
“This is only the halfway point, and I'm aware of that,” Spieth said. “I'm going to try and stay in the moment and be very patient these last two days and understand it's going to feel like a whole ’nother tournament.”
Lest we forget it was just four years ago that another audacious 21-year-old carried a four-stroke lead into the final round of the Masters, only to see his green-jacket dreams crash and burn in the cabins left of the 10th fairway. His name is Rory McIlroy.
If things do tighten up over the weekend, don’t expect Speith to curl up into the fetal position. Remember his poise in the cauldron of the Ryder Cup? And his resolve at the Valspar Championship four weeks ago? Spieth didn’t have his best stuff down the stretch at Innisbrook, but he willed his way into the playoff with a knee-knocking flop shot to six feet at the 17th and another at the 18th, which he followed by draining a 12-footer. And last week at the Shell Houston Open, he got into the playoff by making a 12-foot par putt at the 72nd hole. In his last three starts, he has a win and two runner-ups. In his last 14 rounds, he is 47 under par.
Should Spieth challenge Woods’s scoring record, comparisons inevitably will be drawn. But their brands of golf could not be more different. When Woods ran away with the title in ’97, he overpowered the field. His 323-yard driving average was 25 yards longer than the next player in the field. Spieth is less brawn and more finesse, with a Seve-like knack for getting the ball in the jar.
After birdies at 2, 5, 8, 10 and 13 on Friday, Spieth sized up his second shot at the reachable but treacherous par-5 15th. He was 13 under, and after bogeying the hole on Thursday thanks to a second shot that sailed over the green, every fiber of his being wanted to reach for his hybrid and have a go at the green.
“But the wind had flipped on 14,” Spieth explained. “It turned 90 degrees and came more straight into us there.” So he and his caddie, Michael Greller, huddled up. “With that back pin, I knew that I could hit off the downslope and kind of pitch something back there, and I knew if I could get it down to where I had a 60‑degree in, I could at least give myself a good look.”
He gave himself a great look, throwing it past the flagstick and zipping it back to five feet from the hole, from where he poured in the putt.
A mouthy Australian fan in the grandstand left of the 15th green took umbrage with Spieth’s decision to lay up.
“What a wuss,” he growled. “Tiger wouldn’t do that.”
Seated directly behind the Aussie was an Augusta National member, his green coat draped over his lap. When Spieth drained the putt, the member leaned in and said, “He’s a wuss who just made a birdie.”
We can all agree Spieth is decidedly not a wuss, and contrary to popular belief he’s not a short hitter, either. He averages 293 yards off the tee, which ranks 55th on Tour, a few yards ahead of Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan and Patrick Reed and nearly 30 yards longer than actual bunters like Mike Weir and Ben Crane.
“Jordan’s strength is he doesn't have a weakness,” said Todd Anderson, a swing instructor who works with several Tour pros including Brandt Snedeker and Billy Horschel. Anderson doesn’t teach Spieth, but he did spend the first two rounds following him with the masses at Augusta National. “He’s made all the putts you’re supposed to make, and he has left all his approaches pin high or below the hole. That’s what you need to do around here.”
“By far the most balanced kid I've seen,” said Ernie Els, who is nine back of Spieth after a second-round 72.
Dustin Johnson, maybe the Tour’s best driver, came out swinging on Friday. He doubled the 1st hole but then eagled the 2nd, 8th and 15th to set a Masters record for most eagles in a round. He hung up a 67 and climbed into a tie for third at seven under with Englishmen Justin Rose (67-70) and Paul Casey (69-68). Phil Mickelson rallied with a four-under back, shot 68 and got to six under.
Tiger Woods–you remember him, right?–quietly posted a four-birdie 69, a three-shot improvement on his Thursday score. He’ll be around for the weekend (as will the 55 others who made the cut at 2 over), which is more than most observers expected from Woods this week.
“I told you guys on Tuesday, I was at a pretty low [point] in my career,” Woods said. “But to basically change an entire release pattern like that and put it together where I can compete in a major championship like this is something I’m very proud of.”
All of Augusta was proud of Ben Crenshaw, who played in his last Masters on Friday. After 44 starts, the two-time champion bid a teary farewell to the tournament he holds so dearly. He was greeted by stirring ovations at every green. On the home hole he hugged his longtime caddie, Carl Jackson, for nearly 10 seconds. Neither man seemingly wanted to let go of the other. Crenshaw’s wife and daughters also embraced him, and a lineup of green coats, including reigning champion Bubba Watson, waited to shake his hand behind the 18th green.
“You think of Ben Crenshaw, you think of Augusta National,” said Spieth, who has long looked up to his fellow Texan.
And one day when you think of Augusta National, you might think of Jordan Spieth.