AUGUSTA, Georgia — There is more than one way to tell who the winners are around here. That is to say, it is not just a matter of who walks around wearing a green jacket. Sometimes the evidence comes from what is inside a golfer’s chest. That is just as easy to spot, too, as Jordan Spieth showed on Saturday.
No matter what happens in the final round of the Masters on Sunday, Spieth already has displayed the heart of a champion. He shook off having been 10 shots behind on Thursday, he shrugged off having been right on the cut line and he sloughed off the awful memory of last year. He bounced back from all of that and put himself thick into contention, two shots back with one round to play. He will take those odds.
Given his home state, you could say he is as bold as a Texas Hold ‘Em player. In fact, he used a poker expression to describe how his week has gone: “I gave myself a chip and a chair.” In other words, he still had a seat at the table and he had enough of a stake to keep playing.
Speith, the champion two years ago and a contender in 2014 and 2016, is going to go at it hard and strong on Sunday. He will begin at 4 under par, tied for third and two shots behind co-leaders Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia. “You’ve got to play like Arnold Palmer out here,” he said after shooting 4-under-par 68 in the third round. In fact, during his round, when caddie Michael Greller was trying to talk him into laying up in front of the water on the par-5 13th hole, Spieth cavalierly said, “What would Arnie do?” They both knew the answer.
In this year, when the whole tournament is a sort of tribute to the late icon who won four green jackets, Spieth cleared the hazard and had a tap-in birdie. That wasn’t even his best shot of the day. No. 1 was the approach shot on No. 9, which landed 18 inches of the hole and led to a momentum-sustaining birdie. No. 1-A was the wedge shot he put within a foot on No. 15 — the site of his disaster on Thursday. He had made quadruple-bogey 9 then and placed himself in danger of not playing on the weekend. This time, he made birdie 4.
So he was resilient, not letting Thursday’s 9 seep into Saturday’s round. Piece of cake, all things considered. “It’s hard to be more resilient than we were last year after No. 12. That was by far the most resilient I’ve ever been on a golf course in my life,” he said.
That was a reference to the weight that has been hanging around his neck since last April: the quadruple-bogey 7 on the 12th hole that ranks as one of the all-time Masters collapses. He still is proud of bouncing back with birdies on 13 and 15, even though he did not win.
“That gets overlooked,” said Stewart Hagestad, the amateur from Deepdale Golf Club on Long Island who is in this Masters and is a friend of Spieth from when they played junior golf against each other. “His short game gets better under pressure, he starts hitting better golf shots in the clutch. He’s a total stud and I think this place really sets up for him nicely.”
As much as Spieth channeled Arnie, he really resembled another multiple Masters champion: Tiger Woods. All too often people say that a golfer who does well is “Tiger-like” when being as dominant as Woods was is just about impossible. But an overlooked aspect of Woods’ career was a tenacity that kept him grinding away, no matter what the situation was. Spieth has done that this week.
Golf called him to show his hand and Spieth had aces. He will play aggressively, insisting he has nothing to lose. Plus, as he said with a laugh, “I know that anything can happen. If somebody gets hot on the front nine tomorrow that is not myself, to stay in there, stay patient. You just never know.”
One thing you do know. You can spot a champion here by seeing what is inside of him.