Whether rallying from four shots behind with six holes to play for a second John Deere Classic win erased the doubts that followed his decision to play stateside prior to his bid for an historic third leg of the modern Grand Slam mattered little to Jordan Spieth on Sunday evening.
But, hey, let’s get his PGA TOUR victory total right.
A par on the second hole of sudden death lifted the hottest player in the game to five TOUR wins and counting, a smiling Spieth was quick to point out when that number erroneously was cited as four.
“I know I don’t get credit for winning Tiger’s event and the Australian Open,” he said of a pair of off-season victories that got him started on a run that may be remembered as one of the most significant in golf history. “But give me credit for all of my Tour wins.”
By any measure, the 21-year-old Texan continues to collect praise for talent beyond his years and a similarly impressive demeanor many consider to be a credit to the gentleman’s game.
“He has the best attitude I have ever seen in any player,” gushed CBS commentator David Feherty. “He couldn’t be more of a saint for the game of golf if his name was Andrew.”
Yes. St. Andrew. And St. Andrews, of course, is the next stop on the Jordan Spieth Coronation Tour. With win number FIVE behind him, Spieth will launch his pursuit of a feat previously accomplished only by legendary fellow Texan Ben Hogan when the Deere-sponsored charter jet touches down in Scotland Monday afternoon.
Having already won the Masters and U.S. Open —and with defending champion and world No. 1 Rory McIlroy a scratch due to injury — Spieth will be a prohibitive favorite at the historic Royal and Ancient Links this coming week.
And for those who still wonder if a gritty victory at a soft and birdie-yielding TPC Deere Run course that bears little resemblance to the birthplace of golf has him ready for the year’s third major, Spieth — No. 2 in the world with a bullet — would have them know that the only opinion that matters is his own.
“I really didn’t care anyway,” he said of the debate over his choice to return to the tournament where he scored his first victory in 2013, a win he credits with positioning him for all the success that has followed.
“I came here for a reason, and we accomplished that reason, and certainly have some momentum going into next week.”
Perhaps a victory over a field that included only three other Top 50 players ultimately won’t be remembered as momentous. But, with a month remaining until the playoffs, it did earn Spieth 500 FedEx Cup points and pushed his season-leading total to a record 3,628 — 197 more than Tiger Woods earned in 2009.
It also left him one win shy of tying Woods for the most TOUR wins before the age of 22. And, furthermore, it is a win he achieved with what he apologetically described as something less than his A game.
Spieth opened this Deere with an even-par round that left him scrambling to make the cut, climbed the leaderboard with a fast Friday finish and then took a two-shot lead into Sunday’s finale thanks to a two-eagle Saturday round of 61 that was his lowest number on Tour to date.
A sluggish Sunday start left him looking at a four-shot deficit to Gillis, while also trailing a game group that included former Masters champ and Deere Run master Zach Johnson, with only those six holes to play.
He earned his playoff opportunity with three backside birdies en route to a round of 68 and a 20 under par 264 total, then matched pars with Gillis on the first playoff hole. He nabbed Tour win No. 5 with another solid par when the 47-year-old Gillis, playing well above his ranking of No. 643 at week’s start, found a brutal tree-blocked lie in the right rough and scraped a do-or-die attempt into the greenside pond.
Ready for St. Andrews? Well, there’s work to do over the next several days. Spieth didn’t hit his driver — a necessary weapon at the Old Course — particularly well at Deere Run, and said he will need to fine-tune his distance control with his irons to accommodate the three-quarter shots Open courses tend to demand.
Meanwhile, concerns about his ability to acclimate to seaside weather conditions and the five-hour time difference in just a matter of days are not concerns of his.
And being pushed to bag a second leaping deer trophy, Spieth said, will be a help and not a hindrance with history on the line.
“I’ve got plenty in the tank,” he declared with the special brand of confidence he is able to infuse with a impressive dose of humility. “Leading into the Masters, those couple of weeks right before could have taken a lot out of me with a runner-up finish and then a playoff loss. And we rebounded nicely.”
Finally, for the record and for the sake of potential down-the-line doubters, Spieth’s 2016 schedule will include a stop at Deere Run.
“This tournament means a lot to me,” he said of an event that forever will be the first TOUR win in an already remarkable career as well as the first he has ever won twice. “This is a tournament I truly love.”