BETHESDA, Md. — The word on the street this week was that the AT&T National was suffering from a thin field. Just don't bother Jordan Spieth with that assessment. After a 5-under 66 on Friday, he sits tied with Roberto Castro (69) at 7-under and couldn't be much happier about it.
The 19-year-old Spieth, playing on a sponsor's exemption, was grinning from ear-to-ear as he addressed the media after his round. And why not? He's competing for the title of his boyhood idol's tournament, he became the first player since Craig Kanada in 2007 to hit all 18 of Congressional's greens in regulation, he's got a tour card locked up for next year, and he might just have a Master's invitation and a spot in the FedEx Cup playoffs by the end of the weekend to boot.
With his parents, brother, and a couple of other relatives who made the trip from the Philadelphia area watching, Spieth got a huge confidence boost on the very first hole when he drained a difficult 25-foot putt for birdie — one of five he made going out.
"When a putt like that drops, there's never a better feeling than to start under par for the round," he said. "Fortunately, I was able to take that momentum into the front nine."
Although the birdies stopped falling after the turn, it was an impressive round for the young Texan that included several lip outs. He said he feels great about the way he's swinging the club, and wasn't troubled by the lack of one putts on the backside, either, saying "I didn't start walking right after on any missed putts — I thought they were going in on most of them, and I just barely missed them. Hopefully I can take a lot of confidence out of that and tomorrow hopefully they'll fall."
Spieth and Castro sit atop a slew of players who grew up watching this week's host and would be thrilled to accept the hardware from him on Sunday. Castro called Tiger "the best player on the planet" and Spieth, who is the only player other than Woods to win the U.S. Junior Amateur multiple times, said "it would be a dream come true" to shake the world No. 1's hand on the 18th green.
It's an interesting twist that Tiger's tournament is being contested largely by a group that you might call "Generation Tiger." Spieth admitted that he was too young to remember Tiger's first major victory. He was three at the time.
All told, the average age of the top 10 when play was suspended shortly before 3 p.m. today was a ripe 28.5. Forty-year old Stewart Cink is one of the outliers. Currently tied for seventh place and four off the lead, Cink joked on the driving range afterward that the wealth of young blood "makes me scared for my job."
Afternoon storms were a reminder, however, that today's low scores might have been the exception rather than the rule here at Congressional. With so few veterans, and so many who have squandered leads in past tournaments, near the top, maturity will surely be tested as the rough gets shaggy over the weekend.
Some said they would focus on staying aggressive, while others preached patience. But when asked what the biggest key was for the final two rounds, Dong-Hwan Lee — proud owner of a seven-birdie 66 today that moved him just two off the lead — got to the heart of everyone's thinking going into what should be an eventful weekend:
"Don't watch the leaderboard."