UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash.
Jordan Spieth had been running a little hot all day, generating cheers with his brilliant sand saves and putting and also generating sparks with a fit of pique when he double-bogeyed the 18th hole to lose the outright lead at the U.S. Open heading to his back nine yesterday at Chambers Bay.
When he got to the ninth tee, which was his last hole, Spieth was grinding hard after a bogey at the seventh to fall out of a tie for the lead and a missed birdie chance at the par-5 eighth.
When he stepped on the elevated ninth tee box, checking the wind blowing against him on the 237-yard par 3, you figured par was a good score.
But the 21-year-old Masters champion took in the moment and loved everything about it, calling that tiny target far below "gettable."
"I love that hole from up top," Spieth said. "It's a beautiful view. The ball stays in the air forever. You have to judge the wind alternatives. If you hit a good, solid shot, it ends up going near the hole."
In the next 20 minutes or so, Spieth would show the guts, the grinding ability and the determination that made him a major champion, and he would show the compassion that endears this fresh young face to the galleries.
Going after playing partners Jason Day and Justin Rose, Spieth sent his tee shot soaring into the bright blue sky and onto the green, where it rolled eight feet from the pin.
As the players and caddies made the steep downhill trek to the green, Day suddenly experienced an episode of vertigo and keeled over on a sharp slope by the green. Spieth rushed to help and tried to shoo away the photographers. After treatment by paramedics, a shaky Day made a nice bunker shot but two-putted for bogey.
After all the dramatics, the delay and the distraction, how would Spieth react? By calmly rolling in the 8-footer for birdie, a second-round 67 and a share of the second-round lead at 5 under with Patrick Reed. That's how.
"That was one of the better birdies I've ever made given the situation," Spieth said.
"All in all, I went to the ninth tee saying, 'Let's hit a solid shot on the green. So I fed a 5-iron in and cut it into the wind, and I had a dead straight putt to about 8 feet. There was some wait time in between, but I actually got a read off Jason's putt and was able to knock it in."
You could say Spieth's ability to handle the unexpected medical emergency surrounding Day's condition added to the degree of difficulty of his U.S. Open test. He said Day gave no indication of a problem earlier in the round.
"I was walking with him, and the next thing I know, I turned around and I think he got dizzy and slipped and fell," Spieth said. "At that point, how can we help him out and kind of clear the scene and keep the cameras off and let him rebound from being dizzy? We were trying to look out for him."
The person to look out for this week is Spieth. He was asked if players are discussing the obvious demise of Tiger Woods and said all the right things about how he has enjoyed time spent with Woods and wishes him the best. "But as far as talking about it, there is no murmur," Spieth said. "We're just focusing on ourselves."
Golf is moving on. Spieth is ranked No. 2, and he's chasing No. 1 Rory McIlroy and the second leg of the Grand Slam this week the way he put on the blinders and chased down that birdie at the finishing hole.