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Valspar Championship holds special place for Jordan Spieth

When Jordan Spieth drained a long putt in a playoff to win the 2015 Valspar Championship, it was the first time he did so to win a professional tournament. Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- There is barely enough time in the day for Jordan Spieth to sit back, relax and enjoy the accomplishments that have seen him ascend to the No. 1 golfer in the world.

Of course, he is not satisfied, and expects to build on his success, so he's not apt to relish the past too much. And on the occasions where he might want to reminisce, there is travel or business or practice or actual tournament rounds to keep him busy.

But Spieth, 22, found some time Tuesday night to catch a bit of the 2015 Valspar Championship with his caddie, Michael Greller -- a tournament he often says was a big factor in a big year.

"It was pretty exciting to watch,'' Spieth said Wednesday prior to his pro-am at the Innisbrook Resort, where the Valspar Championship begins Thursday. "Had a few tough up and downs the last few holes, made a few putts and ultimately knocked in a long one in a playoff and really got a nice jump-start to closing out tournaments in '15.

"And it continued throughout the year.''

It would be a stretch to say that Spieth would not have gone on to win the Masters had he not prevailed in a three-hole playoff a month earlier on the Copperhead course against Patrick Reed and Sean O'Hair.

But look where Spieth was at that point a year ago: Although he had won the previous fall at the Australian Open and the Hero World Challenge, he had but a single PGA Tour title to his name. He was ranked 10th in the world, and had three top-10 finishes in five starts before arriving at Innisbrook.

And yet ... he wasn't really Jordan Spieth.

Not a major champion. Not a multiple-major winner stalking the Grand Slam. Not a FedEx Cup champ, either.

All of that's changed in a year, and the Valspar helped propel him to that greatness.

"It was huge,'' he said. "It was the first time I ever made a putt to win a professional tournament.''

Spieth followed with a second-place finish at the Valero Texas Open, a playoff loss at the Shell Houston Open and then a 4-shot victory at the Masters where he matched Tiger Woods' tournament scoring record.

The Texan added three more victories, including the U.S. Open and the Tour Championship, then began this year with a win at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

"Winning on any tour anywhere is always a confidence boost, and as golfers, we don't get to do that often given how many participants you have and how tough the competition is,'' said seventh-ranked Henrik Stenson, who missed last year's Valspar playoff by a stroke. "Winning at the right time is definitely huge for your confidence and why not make it here? It kick-started last year for Jordan and [this] year I wouldn't mind getting a win. It's been awhile.''

Although there have been more modest results for Spieth in recent weeks -- he tied for fifth in Abu Dhabi and was second in Singapore -- he is ahead of his 2015 pace and looking to find his form heading to Augusta National just as he did a year ago.

"I really need to get my putter going,'' said Spieth, who missed the cut at the Northern Trust Open three weeks ago and tied for 17th last week at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. "Hasn't really clicked yet. Feels fine. Haven't quite gone in yet. But they will. Wedge play needs to just improve.

"But my driving of the golf ball is better. I feel better than it was last year and my iron striking has been consistent from last week into this week.''

If ever there is a place where Spieth can fall back on some good vibes, it is at the Copperhead course, where not only did he win a year ago but also had a significant career achievement in 2013.

Just 19 at the time and with no status on either the Web.com Tour or the PGA Tour, Spieth came to Innisbrook after a whirlwind month that saw him play his fourth consecutive week after two tournaments in South America and another in Puerto Rico.

"I came (here) running on fumes,'' he said.

Spieth had done well in two starts on the Web.com Tour, but elected to take a sponsor exemption to play in Puerto Rico, a PGA Tour event opposite the WGC at Doral. He tied for second, winning about $300,000 and putting him approximately $150,000 short of special temporary status on the PGA Tour.

Why is that important? Achieving that would allow him unlimited sponsor exemptions, which mean more chances to play PGA Tour events and secure playing privileges for the following year.

"With two holes remaining, I was 1 shot out of the top 10 and 1 shot out of that dollar amount to lock up special temporary status,'' Spieth recalled. "On the 17th hole, there was a back right pin and I hit it in the rough and short. I hit a flop shot that bounded into the pin and went in for birdie. Then a par save out of the sand on the 18th hole where I made about a 5-footer.

"That was probably the biggest smile I had other than tapping in at Augusta last year. I was now a member of the PGA Tour in 2013 when four weeks prior I didn't even have Web.com status. It was a very special moment. That's why Tampa and the Valspar Championship hold a pretty special place in my career.''

Spieth has plenty of work ahead, whether it be at Innisbrook or in his next starts prior to the Masters at the WGC-Dell Match Play and the Shell Houston Open.

But he admits that he approaches it differently than in the past.

"It's a different feeling,'' he said. "It's a good feeling. Just builds more and more confidence. I feel like instead of trying to get into contention and then test out how to close, now we have a formula to be able to close out tournaments.

"Whether the breaks go your way or not, that's not for me to necessarily say. But mentally I'm there where I'm in contention and I feel more comfortable now and I'm most confident when I arrive prior to the week even starting, whether it's here or anywhere else.

"Anytime you've come to a place where you've won, you feel very, very comfortable because it's already happened, so you can visualize it.''