Spieth's big lesson on closing paid big dividends

By Doug Ferguson
Published on
Spieth's big lesson on closing paid big dividends

NASSAU, Bahamas — Jordan Spieth ends 2015 with two majors, the No. 1 ranking and no doubts about his ability to close out tournaments.

That wasn't the case at this time a year ago.

Not only was he winless, but Spieth three times had failed to convert at least a share of the 54-hole lead into a trophy, including the Masters and The Players Championship. With two events left on his 2014 schedule, he rallied to win the Australian Open and then went wire-to-wire for a 10-shot victory in the Hero World Challenge at Isleworth.

"I had four or five leads going into weekend in 2014 in the PGA Tour season, and each time you don't come through you wonder what's wrong. Is it me? Is it my game?" he said Wednesday. "And then you hear the noise of, 'He's a good player but he can't close,' and this and that. Whether you try to hear it or not, it still comes in. And that's a tough thing to get over."

Those doubts are gone.

Those two wins at the end of last year served as a springboard to a spectacular season in which Spieth won the Masters and U.S. Open among his five titles, captured the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus, swept all the major awards and showed that he can be tough to beat with the lead.

He was 4-1 this year with at least a share of the lead going into the final round, the exception coming at the Shell Houston Open when he lost in a playoff.

"It just clicked right at the end of that season to lead into '15," he said. "But it was tough. Those Sunday evenings were tough for me when I didn't close them out. Makes you really appreciate now that you can. You wonder, 'How in the world was I not able to back then?' But it's just the way the game is."

Indeed, it's tougher than ever to win on the PGA Tour. The Hero World Challenge, which starts Thursday at Albany Golf Club, is an example of that.

The 18-man field, which does not include injured host Tiger Woods, consists only of players from the top 50 in the world ranking. And yet there are five of those, including three from the top 20, who have yet to win anywhere around the world this year.

One of them is Adam Scott, at No. 10 in the world, who is trying to avoid his first winless year since his first as a pro in 2000.

Scott is coming off a runner-up finish in the Australian Open, and he is helped by some course knowledge. He has had a home in Albany the last four years and holds the course record (65).

"Look, winning is getting more difficult, certainly when you have some dominant players," Scott said. "And you had two really dominant players this year in Jordan and Jason (Day) winning five times each. And then the depth of the game of golf is stronger every year at the moment. And just getting one win is tough."

This is the fourth location for the World Challenge, which Woods began in 1999 in Arizona. It was at Sherwood Country Club in California until moving to Isleworth in Florida for last year, and now The Bahamas were Woods has property, along with Scott and Justin Rose.

The task facing the 22-year-old Spieth is what he does for an encore, though Spieth will have the rest of December to figure that out. Winning two majors again might be asking too much. Woods is the only player in golf history to win multiple majors in back-to-back years.

Spieth said there are areas where he can improve. He's just not sure how that will translate into results because it's hard to win — and yes, it's still hard to close out tournaments. Woods is considered the greatest closer of his era with a 54-4 record when he had at least a share of the 54-hole lead.

What would be a good record now?

"I would say 50 percent would be pretty spectacular," Spieth said.

Oddly enough, that's what he is in his young career: 4-4. It's not spectacular by Woods' standards, but it gave Spieth a spectacular year.