Jordan Spieth shot a four-over-par 74 today to open the FedEx Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Thursday morning. It was by his own admission the worst round fairway to green he’s played in years. You could easily forgive Spieth for the misstep even if it suggests that the burden of No. 1 is too much for him to bear.
At this point in the season he must be running on E. The mental strain of golf wears on players more when they’re in contention. Spieth is always in contention. He looked almost relieved that he could cruise the back-nine at Whistling Straits rather than find one last charge in a brilliant season full of them. The No. 1 World Ranking was the Texan’s reward for an historic campaign. He had little left to give golf in 2015.
Star players’ fatigue, or laissez attitude towards the competition, is one of the main arguments against the FedEx Cup Playoffs. The golf season ends with the PGA Championship as far as fans and probably most golfers are concerned. A $10 million payday was meant to offset the anticlimax but it also reinforces the gimmick. Try as they might, the PGA Tour can’t seem to legitimize the event.
Spieth’s 74 is a letdown for him personally as well as the FedEx Cup. If he tunes out so does everyone else.
And that’s a shame, perhaps not in the context of the playoffs as we know them but definitely in this particular season. After a few years in flux, the World Golf Rankings have finally settled at a place that makes sense. Speith is the current best player in the world. Rory McIlroy, when healthy, is near his level if not better. Jason Day bludgeoned his way into the discussion with his record-setting breakthrough at the PGA.
Yet, we haven’t seen the trio of young stars battle it out on Sunday this year. McIlroy missed the Open Championship with an ankle injury as Day and Spieth finished T4 and one shot out of the playoff. At Whistling Straits, Rory played admirably but couldn’t overcome the rust.
The FedEx Cup Playoffs could have provided—and still can—the 1 v. 2 v. 3 showdown we all covet. There’s hope, too. McIlroy is skipping the Barclays but will play in the other events. Day sits in a nice position after a two-under 68 in his opening round, despite injury. And Spieth always seems to rebound when he’s down, whether it be a bad hole or round. Remember the John Deere Classic? People questioned not only his decision to play but also his intensity when he fired a ho-hum 71 the week prior to the Open. Spieth came back with three rounds in the 60’s to win in the Quad Cities.
He’s never down for long. That’s as good a reason to watch these playoffs as any. Then again, the mere fact that we’re searching for reasons to watch tells you all you need to know.