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Saturday, May 10, 2014
Jordan Spieth scrambles to TPC lead

By Gene Wojciechowski
ESPN.com

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Here's how you know Jordan Spieth is a legitimate Next Big Thing -- and why we all need to remember the details of his birth certificate:

So it was about 40 minutes before Spieth teed off in the third round of the Players Championship. Paired with leader Martin Kaymer and trailing by a shot, Spieth was trying to further position himself for his second career PGA Tour victory and his first win since last July.

And that's when I heard someone inside the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse mention Spieth and then say, "You know, he's had trouble playing well on Saturdays and closing out on Sundays."

Jordan Spieth
In his first Players Championship appearance, 20-year-old Jordan Spieth hasn't had a single bogey through 54 holes at TPC Sawgrass.

Wait ... what?

Spieth is 20. I repeat, 20. He isn't old enough to rent a car. He needs a fake ID to buy an adult beverage. Miguel Angel Jimenez has hair product older than Spieth.

So when someone suggests that Spieth can't handle the pressure, or can't close out a tournament, I want to smack them with a bunker rake.

Spieth has been a full member of the tour for about five minutes. OK, 10 months. Before that, he needed sponsor's exemptions to play, and not long before that, he was going through freshman orientation at the University of Texas.

He plays older. He carries himself older. But he looks like a can of shaving cream would last him a year.

His caddie, Michael Greller, taught sixth grade for 10 years before he quit to work for Spieth. It is the career move that keeps on giving.

"Dealing with 30 12-year-olds every day prepared me for Jordan," said Greller, smiling.

Greller turns 37 in June. Spieth turns 21 in July. To Spieth, 37 qualifies as AARP.

"He always says, `Take your cap off and show your bald spot,"' Greller said. "I tell him he gives me that bald spot."

Spieth might have contributed to Greller's male pattern baldness during Saturday's round. He was in the rough. He was under trees. He was next to drainage grates. He barely cleared the water. He left putts short. He powered putts long. He pulled the wrong club on No. 18.

And he's tied for the lead. And he hasn't bogeyed a hole during the entire tournament. In fact, he hasn't registered a bogey in his past 69 holes of play. Is that any good?

"I don't think I've really ever done that in a tournament, even going back to junior days of three-round events that you'd shoot 12-, 13-under," Spieth said.

There is an innocence about Spieth. He is polite, calling Ben Crenshaw "Mr. Crenshaw" or Tom Watson "Mr. Watson." And just to stick it to Bubba, he's called him, "Mr. Watson," too.

He didn't call Kaymer "Mr. Kaymer," though the former PGA Championship winner is nine years older than Spieth. And they definitely didn't act as if they were golf adversaries Saturday. They acted like buddies playing a $2 Nassau.

Example: When Spieth's birdie putt on No. 10 popped in and out of the hole, Kaymer later approached him as they walked down the 11th fairway.

"He's like, 'Just don't worry about it. Just have some fun. This is where you want to be,"' Spieth said. "Which was really cool for him to come up and say that at the time."

It's true: Spieth has struggled on Saturdays in the past. It's also true that he hasn't won since last July and that he had a chance to win the Masters last month but faltered with an even-par 72 on Sunday.

Guess what? I don't care. Because if anyone will learn from his mistakes, it's Spieth. And did I mention that he's only 20?

"This is the position I wanted to get into in another big tournament," he said. "Augusta left me feeling a little hungry for it again and here we are, and I have an opportunity to kind of draw back on that [Sunday Masters] round."

There will be a match play/Ryder Cup-ish feel to Sunday's round. Kaymer, the thoughtful, affable German, whose putt in 2012 clinched the Cup for the Europeans at Medinah, versus Spieth, the American who still can't remember if he watched the USA loss at his parents' house in Dallas or at school in Austin, Texas. As it was, there were moments Saturday when the galleries at TPC Sawgrass stupidly cheered when Kaymer missed a putt or hit an errant shot.

They wouldn't do that if they knew what a classy player Kaymer is.

"Jordan ... he's playing very good golf," Kaymer said. "Very nice guy, very mature for his age ... Both of us want to win. But I think it will be a very fair and very good game."

Spieth wants desperately to win here Sunday, not because of what happened at Augusta National, not because of some knucklehead in the Sawgrass clubhouse who has bread pudding for brains and not because of the $1.8 million check that comes with winning this thing.

He wants to win for the right reasons: He wants to be the best in the world. Spieth has said that since he was 12.

"He just wants to play good," Greller said.

Spieth is a work in progress, but it's fun to watch the progress, isn't it? That doesn't change Sunday -- win or lose.