Thursday pairings at bottom
DUBLIN, Ohio – Every step of the way in the amazing rookie season of Jordan Spieth brings more than he could have imagined.
And then he stepped to the 12th tee Wednesday at Muirfield Village.
It got even better.
Spieth and Steve Stricker, his partner for the opening session of the Presidents Cup, were already behind in an abbreviated match against Tiger Woods and Matt Kuchar, who had made two eagles in the tough alternate-shot format. Woods blasted an 8-iron into the par 3. Typical of his year, Spieth wasn't about to be outdone.
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He tracked the flight of a smooth 7-iron, watched it bounce short and then disappear into the cup for a hole-in-one that sent cheers reverberating across the golf course.
"Everybody's hands went up, so our arms went up, and it was really cool," Spieth said.
Can it get any better?
He started the season without status on any tour. He assured himself a PGA Tour card in four months. He won the John Deere Classic in July. Only one of the best shots of the year kept him from winning again in August. Playing with Phil Mickelson for the first time, he shot 62 in the final round at the TPC Boston, such an impressive display that Mickelson sent a text message to Presidents Cup Captain Fred Couples that said, "Dude, you've got to pick this guy."
Couples did, and Spieth made it look even better by nearly winning the Tour Championship.
The International team is rallying around the energy of seven newcomers to the Presidents Cup. The Americans are getting plenty of that from one rookie – a 20-year-old from Dallas who first showed poise on the big stage when he was on the fringe of contention at the HP Byron Nelson Championship at age 16.
The next big chance starts Thursday when Spieth makes his debut as the youngest American ever in the Presidents Cup. He plays with Stricker – at 46, the oldest player on this team – against Ernie Els and Brendon de Jonge.
Spieth had not celebrated his first birthday when Els won his first major championship.
The two days of practice leading up to the Presidents Cup have been relatively calm. Most of the players know this course from the Memorial, and most are still taking it easy after such a long stretch to end the 2013 tour season. Leave it to Spieth to deliver the first "wow" moment of the week.
Davis Love III, an assistant to Couples this week, was standing by the 12th green when Spieth made his ace.
"Every time I've been around him, great things happen," Love said. "I've been kind of watching him since he was real young – like four years ago. He came through the junior ranks barely ahead of my son, so I've always been impressed with everything he's done. He says the right thing, does the right thing."
Perhaps the strongest assessment came from Love's wife when she told him, "He just walked in the room like he belongs."
Spieth comes from an athletic family. His mother played college basketball; his father played college baseball. His younger brother, Steven, plays basketball as a freshman at Brown. Spieth dabbled in everything, but fell in love with golf early.
Inspiration comes from the youngest member of his family, 12-year-old Ellie, a special-needs child who brings Spieth even more joy than he can find in golf. As a high school senior, he volunteered in her classroom every Wednesday.
"I got to see her around her peers, which I don't think a lot of people get to do, to be in a special needs classroom," Spieth said. "It's a lot of fun. It's more fun I think than I ever had at school. A lot of them are much smarter at certain subjects than we were at their age. They just have some things that they don't do quite as well. It's a lot of fun to be able to help, and that's what I look forward to doing for years down the road is getting involved with special-needs kids."
His hope is to build a foundation around that.
For now, there is golf to be played. And for all that Spieth has achieved this year, the Presidents Cup is his biggest stage.
"I think he's ready to go out there and win some matches," Keegan Bradley said. "He's not afraid of the big moment, which is important."
Thursday pairings (alternate shot, begins at 11:45 a.m. ET):
Jason Day/Graham DeLaet, INT, vs. Hunter Mahan/Brandt Snedeker, USA
Bill Haas/Webb Simpson, USA, vs. Adam Scott/Hideki Matsuyama, INT
Louis Oosthuizen/Charl Schwartzel, INT, vs. Phil Mickelson/Keegan Bradley, USA
Steve Stricker/Jordan Spieth, USA, vs. Ernie Els/Brendon de Jonge, INT
Angel Cabrera/Marc Leishman, INT, vs. Matt Kuchar/Tiger Woods, USA
Jason Dufner/Zach Johnson, USA, vs. Branden Grace/Richard Sterne, INT