Jordan Spieth arrived here yesterday looking resplendent in his green jacket, although in the opinion of Sir Nick Faldo, a straitjacket might be more appropriate until the young man banishes his demons on the 12th hole.
Spieth has cut an increasingly unsettled figure these past few weeks, as questions have inevitably rained down on how he expects to cope with the revered 155-yarder, where, 12 months ago, he dunked two balls in the water on his way to losing a five-shot lead, and the tournament, to Danny Willett.
In Austin, at the WGC Matchplay, Spieth snapped: “It will be nice once this year’s Masters has gone by, to be brutally honest with you.” And then last week in Houston, he defiantly declared that he and his caddie, Michael Griller, had nothing to be scared about at the course where he has finished second, first and second again in three attempts. Indeed, Spieth believes he should cause the collywobbles, not suffer them. “I think we know and the other players that are playing next week know that we strike fear in others next week,” Spieth said.
Yet Faldo sees it another way. Spieth has struggled in his past two tournaments, falling in the group stages at the Matchplay and then missing the cut at the Houston Open and Faldo – who was also here in his standing as a former champion – believes those have results have occurred because of what is awaiting around the dogleg.
“For Jordan I think it is all about the 12th on Thursday,” Faldo said. “That’s why he has not played well this month – he’s been winding himself up about it. He’s got to get to that hole and deal with it. He’ll feel every eyeball on him. But that’s sport, for you, and sometimes you have to square it up when you go back to a place where something has gone wrong for you.
“So, he’ll have to put the ball down, make a good swing and hit the green. And if he makes a good job of it, then the monkey will be off his back. Knowing Jordan, you have to think he will make a good job of it, but it is one of the tough things he will have to handle.”
The 23-year-old would not agree. He feels he performed the exorcism here in a few friendly rounds in December when he made birdie on the par three known as Golden Bell in consecutive days. But Colin Montgomerie, who is in town with the Golf Channel, believes Spieth is talking apple and azaleas.
“Yeah, Jordan says he’s played the 12th in practice and birdied it, but wait until he gets a card and pen in his hand again and then see what happens,” Montgomerie said.
The Scot has suffered his own share of major frustration, most recently in the 2006 US Open when he needed only to hit the 18th green with a seven iron. Montgomerie missed and took a double-bogey.
“It hurts when I go back to Winged Foot, just like it hurts Greg Norman when he comes back to Augusta [where the Australian conceded a six-shot lead to Faldo in 1996]. And that experience will have hurt Jordan very badly.
“You could see that throughout and afterwards. You know, when you are beaten by a better man who scores 64, 65, to your 68, you say ‘OK, you’ve beaten me, well done’. But the feeling of giving it to somebody, that hurts more than ever.
“And for Jordan it will be a case of, ‘I had both hands on a green jacket again, and this time I just couldn’t button it up’. And that’s the key. It will be interesting to see how he does. He has a very, very old head on young shoulders, and he has as much discipline as anybody. If anybody can come over that and through that back nine last year, Jordan can.”
Perhaps, but the recollections will be ganging up on him. They already have. He saw Willett here yesterday, in that garment which he had to put on the Englishman as part of his duties as defending champion.
Willett has endured a dreadful run, but back at the venue of his glory it was rousing to see that Yorkshire smile return.
“We got here on Saturday and I played nine holes in the company of John [Smart, his caddie] and a local caddie,” Willett said. “We just strolled around, throwing balls down where I hit the shots last year. It was great to relive when it was really quiet before the storm of noise begins tomorrow. You know, it felt real nice and I could feel the confidence rising.”
Good memories, bad memories. Both Spieth and Willett would be wise not to underestimate their power this week.