Almost 40 years ago Raymond Floyd, armed with a five wood specifically made for Augusta National’s par fives, effectively sentenced the field to spend the weekend playing for the minor places after opening rounds of 65 and 66. It is always easy in retrospect but in retrospect the tournament was over on Friday night.
Floyd, one of the toughest men on the tour was already a major champion, a brilliant player and one with a feared reputation as a fine front-runner.
Four years later the extraordinary twenty-three year old Spaniard Severiano Ballesteros began the final nine holes a clear ten shots ahead of those in futile pursuit including the reigning Australian Open champion, Jack Newton. Seve made something of a mess of the holes around Amen Corner but just as Floyd had done, he had routed the field with his uncommonly brilliant play.
Then we had saw miraculous golf of Tiger Woods in 1997. He was out in 40 on the opening day, played the second nine in 30 and finished up winning by a dozen shots.
The week at The Masters the Australian Open champion Jordan Spieth bettered Floyd’s opening day score by a shot and then matched his Friday 66. His 130 total set a new record and leaves Charley Hoffman, his closest opponent, five shots behind. Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey are all seven under and not without hope but that hope will be dependent on some help from the leader.
The play so far of Spieth is hardly a surprise, certainly not to anyone who saw him play The Australian in 63 on the final day of the Australian Open only five months ago.
He is one of the rare players who seems to contend every tournament he plays and last week in Houston he lost out in a playoff to J.B Holmes.
The strength of the leader’s game is his ability to score. It sounds simplistic and obvious but it recalls the advice many years ago of Peter Thomson to Peter Fowler. Fowler had just won the World Cup with Wayne Grady and finished in third place behind Peter Senior at Kingston Heath in the Australian Open.
‘Peter, you’ve seen me play a bit on the television these past few weeks. Do you have any advice on how I might improve my game?’
Thomson pondered the question for a bit. ‘Shoot lower scores Peter… shoot lower scores.’
‘It took me a long time to really work out what he was trying to tell me’ said Fowler years later. ‘I just thought he was being flippant but he was telling me to spend more time thinking about the ultimate point of the game.’
Since January of last year there are more than a hundred players on the American tour who have both hit more fairways from the tee and more greens in regulation figures than Spieth. In contrast three of the games greatest champions, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Woods were always at the top of the greens in regulation statistic.
(In fairness there were no statistics kept in Hogan’s era but it’s a fair assumption he would have topped them every year from 1946 until the mid 1950s)
Spieth has clearly mastered Thomson’s art of shooting lower scores. He doesn’t swing with the pure orthodoxy of Adam Scott or with the great power of Rory McIlroy or hit the wildly imaginative shots of Bubba Watson but he is proving this week he doesn’t need to.