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Sunday, May 11, 2014
Spieth gaining valuable experience

By Bob Harig
ESPN.com

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Give the kid -- and he really is just that -- some credit. Jordan Spieth is learning to deal with defeat and it is no slow, simple education.

Spieth is getting a crash course in final-day disappointment, having played in the last group at the Masters and again here at The Players Championship, only to be shaking hands and offering congratulations to the winner, slinking out of the spotlight.

Jordan Spieth
After finishing tied for fourth at the Players Championship on Sunday, Jordan Spieth moved up to sixth in the FedEx Cup standings and has now earned nearly $3.2 million in the 2013-14 wraparound schedule.

"I'm stinging right now," Spieth said in the darkness at TPC Sawgrass on Sunday night after a final-round 74 left him 3 strokes back of winner Martin Kaymer. "It's not fun being that close and having opportunities and being in the lead on Sunday and not pulling it off."

No, of course it isn't, not for a grizzled veteran who has been through these battles over the years. And not for Spieth, just 20 years old, and lest we forget, a pro for barely 18 months.

But the questions will surely have a bit more of an edge as Spieth proceeds toward his expected greatness. That comes with the territory when you contend for the top titles in the game, ascend to the No. 7 position in the world ranking, see your name atop leaderboards from one coast to another.

Already in 2014, Spieth has posted six top-10 finishes. He had 36-hole leads at Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach, and was tied for the 54-hole lead at the Masters and Players Championship.

He shot a 63 playing alongside Tiger Woods in January and made it to the quarterfinals of the WGC-Match Play Championship in February. In the course of a month, Spieth has been in the last group of the two biggest tournaments of the year to date.

And he has a goose egg to show for it in the victory column and no trophies to display on his mantel.

"I'm disappointed right now in how I performed," Spieth said. "But I think I'm on the path to good things. It's been a great year of putting myself in a lot of positions and having new experiences instead of having to come from behind, trying to hold leads.

"I think that [is] something that it takes a little time to adapt to and hopefully I'm done trying now."

Spieth's remarkable streak of bogey-less holes ended at the fifth, where a poor drive forced him to lay up and he was unable to get up and down from 100 yards. He had played the first 54 holes missing 16 greens and saving par each time and ran his streak to 58 for the tournament.

"I just didn't quite have the magical short game of the first few days," Spieth said.

Nobody should be expected to play entire rounds -- let alone tournaments -- around TPC Sawgrass without a bogey, but adding four more on the card was the problem. His bogey at the 10th was particularly cruel, as Spieth's approach appeared headed for a close birdie chance, only to hit hard and kick to left into no-man's land.

And the birdies at the second and fourth hole would be his only ones of the day.

"When you're at 14 under and then the winning score is 13 under ... and you know I was there during part of that round," he said. "That's tough to swallow."

Spieth's lone PGA Tour victory came last July at the John Deere Classic in a sudden-death playoff. He was just 19 at the time, and it was remarkable, earning him a spot the following week in the Open Championship, as well as invites to the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and the Masters.

He's not been able to follow up with victory No. 2, which will undoubtedly cause some consternation among some who wonder why he's not been able to close. He's had at least a share of the 54-hole lead three times this year. He was second going into the final round at Torrey Pines.

To which the reply would be: who has even been so close to winning so often at age 20?

Yes, Woods was just 20 years old when he won his first two PGA Tour events -- after first blowing a 54-hole lead soon after turning pro in 1996. And he won the Masters in his first try as a pro at age 21. Special stuff there, and an unfair comparison for Spieth.

Yes, Spieth has had some shaky Saturdays and Sundays, and there are clearly a few mental hurdles to overcome. To shoot 74 and lose by 3 will not go down well.

"Certainly last year we did have trouble on Saturday," said Michael Greller, Spieth's caddie. "And we did talk about it. I think he's done a pretty good job not putting expectations on himself."

For Spieth, this is on-the-job training, and it's invaluable. If he weren't at Augusta National last month and at TPC Sawgrass this week, he would be a junior at the University of Texas. When the U.S. Open and Open Championship roll around -- had he somehow not qualified -- he'd be playing in summertime amateur events.

Instead he's competing against the best in the world and having enormous success. That old saying, "It's better to try and fail than not to try at all," would appear to have some merit.

Would Spieth be better off finishing 20th every week, or stepping into the cauldron of contention, feeling the heat but coming up short?

He won't take it as any solace, but Phil Mickelson was 14 years older than Spieth is now when he captured his first major championship.

"Going forward, I still think that I'm playing extremely good golf going into two tournaments [Byron Nelson, Colonial] that I've had success at on golf courses I'm familiar with and atmospheres that are like a major championship for me," he said. "So I'm extremely excited for the Texas swing coming up and carrying the way that I played this week."

Spieth earned another $440,000 on Sunday, a reminder that his on-going lessons remain lucrative.