The 38th-ranked golfer on the PGA Tour money list feels like he's close. The fact that he hasn't won this year the way Bubba Watson has, Rory McIlroy has, Phil Mickelson has, Dustin Johnson has and Jason Day has might be the only reason Jordan Spieth doesn't enter the 82nd Masters Tournament as the odds-on favorite.
"I will never underestimate him," Mickelson said, looking serious and sounding almost somber as he spoke. "He has so much game, plus he's had so much success here at an early age, I would never underestimate his chances."
Spieth tied Tiger Woods' course record of 18-under-par 270 at the ripe old age of 21 (same as Woods when he posted that magic number in 1997) and sandwiched that victory with a pair of second-place finishes here. One included the Amen Corner two-in-the-water meltdown that probably kept him from securing a second green jacket, but Spieth's recovery just to finish second after that 12th-hole disaster in 2016 is worth noting.
The thing about Jordan is he's always going to rise to the occasion," said Justin Thomas, a longtime Spieth competitor through juniors and currently the world's No. 2 golfer behind Johnson. "I've been on the wrong side of it a couple of times where he's beaten me on very, very big stages.
Defending champions don't have a solid history at this course. Spieth is the only defending champ to even finish top-10 since that Woods fellow came in third in 2006 after capturing his fourth green jacket the previous year.
Now Tiger is pursuing a fifth and people feel like there's a chance it could happen, and even Spieth noted that the Tiger comeback storyline could dwarf all others when things get started here Thursday morning. "I think Tiger being healthy and playing well was probably going to make it as anticipated as any going back five, six, seven years," Spieth said.
Going back to last week, Spieth finished third in Houston. He feels like that tournament, coming after he collected a pair of wins in Austin in the match-play event, has helped him reel in a game that had him close to pushing the panic button earlier this year.
Spieth is not accustomed to ranking 38th on the money list or 36th in FedEx points. "I don't shoot 5 over very often," he said Thursday at his Masters news conference, referencing his first-round score at the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Fla., last month. "For me it was a few tournaments in a row where I set my putter down and look up, they're not looking at the same place. Sometimes I get that for a day, sometimes it's a couple weeks, and I was getting it for a couple months."
Exhaustive film study and practice along with the results achieved in Houston last week have convinced Spieth that he's close with the magical stroke that has made him a three-time major winner and, at times, the No. 1 golfer on the planet.
"I'm not here to say it's there because it's not there yet," Spieth said. "But it doesn't mean that it can't get there. I'm closer."