Sometimes, the standard is Tiger Woods. Other times, the standard is his own 2015 season, when he went from a nice young player to world No. 1.
But really, what should the standard be for Jordan Spieth? Is it fair to even set one for him right now? After all, he’s still just 23 years old -- something that’s easy to overlook thanks to the maturity he possesses and the success he produces.
“I’m not sure what my standard is yet,” Spieth said. “… I think it takes maybe a decade to figure that out.”
In a week in which nobody else could figure out the three courses as well as he could, Spieth cruised to a four-shot win Sunday at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. It’s his first win of this PGA TOUR season and his ninth overall, which means the Tiger standard comes into play.
At 23 years, 6 months and 16 days old, Spieth becomes the second-youngest player since World War II to win nine TOUR events. The youngest – by about a month – was Tiger in 1999.
On the flip side, Tiger was 24 when he won this event for the only time in 2000, so Spieth has 1-up on him there. Of course, Woods turned around four months later and won at Pebble Beach for the second time that year (this time the U.S. Open). Spieth will have to wait until 2019 until he can attempt to duplicate that feat.
Spieth – who earlier this week called Woods “underrated” while citing his ridiculous number of weeks (683) as world No. 1 – doesn’t consider comparisons to the red-shirted one particularly fair. But he does feel more comfortable with them than he did two years ago.
Just because I recognize the longevity of a career. I’ve seen the ups and downs. I really do feel like in the last 2 1/2 years, I’ve had enough experiences that people normally have in a 20-year career on TOUR .
“Getting to where you’re the first guy, even including Tiger, to do something is maybe the next goal. But that might be pretty hard.”
It might also be hard for Spieth to ever duplicate his 2015 season, when he won the Masters and U.S. Open, made a run at the Grand Slam, claimed five TOUR titles and climbed to world No. 1.
When he won two times last year but tossed away the Masters and didn’t win a major, the lofty standards he had set the previous year left some wondering if it was a disappointment. But not Spieth. He’s wise enough to know the ebbs and flows of a golf career. Plus, the math just doesn’t add up in his mind.
“I don’t think comparing to 2015 as being the standard is fair because that would be comparing to someone who would win 45 majors and almost a hundred events,” he said. “So I don’t think of that as the standard. I think of that as, put ourselves in the right position and obviously try and capitalize each time because we had a lot of fun that year.”
Ah yes, fun. That’s what Spieth had this week at Pebble Beach. With country music star and good friend Jake Owen as his amateur partner for the fourth time, Spieth seemed in a playful mood (except for a few professional autograph seekers that hit one of Spieth’s hot buttons when they cursed in front of children after a practice round).
On Sunday, as he was walking down the first fairway, he spotted fellow Texan Kelly Kraft on the second tee box and offered up a big smile and a wave as if it was an ice-cream social. Another time, he chatted with hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, who had been in his group the previous three days as the amateur teammate to future son-in-law Dustin Johnson.
Though he struck the ball well, Spieth wasn’t making any putts Sunday. But with such a large lead entering the day – he led by six shots – he could afford to close out the tournament on his ball-striking, not with his putting.
And he could afford to have fun.
Strolling down the 18th fairway, he decided to soak it all in. Rarely has he done that in his previous eight wins, usually opting to keep his game face on until the final putt dropped. Only once before – the 2015 Masters – did he take time to enjoy the moment.
So he did it again Sunday. The view of the sun-splashed Monterey coastline was spectacular, his good buddy Owen was along for the ride, and he was back in the winner’s circle for the first time on TOUR since last season’s DEAN & DELUCA Invitational back in May at Colonial.
“I don’t think I’ve really enjoyed on the inside how much it takes to win out here and the hard work that goes into winning when you do win,” Spieth said. “… I’m going to look back a number of years from now and think, you know, man, I wish I really enjoyed these wins more.”
Owen recalled the first time he met Spieth. It came at the 2013 AT&T Pebble Beach when the two were in the same foursome. That year, though, they weren’t teammates. Spieth was partnered with Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo while Owen was partnered with Kraft. Spieth was 18 and several months away from winning his first TOUR event at the John Deere Classic.
Owen went back home the next week and told his parents to keep tabs on the kid “because he’s gonna do something.”
“And then over the last few years, watching him win the Masters, the U.S. Open -- he’s what you call the greatest player in the world right now, I think,” Owen said. “He’s going to be real hard to beat for a number of years. It’s not just his golf game but what’s between his ears. He does not stop. He’s always there for the win.
“When you look back at a guy like Tiger Woods and what you saw back in the day and how much he dominated – I think he dominated more mentally than actually physical. I think that’s what you’re going to see with Jordan over the next few years because he’s dominating these guys mentally.”
That's the Tiger standard again, or at least the Tiger comparison. Spieth doesn’t ever expect to win at the same percentage rate that Woods did, but thus far, at age 23, the race is pretty close (even if the ratios aren't, as Tiger won 28 of his first 100 TOUR starts as a pro).
Perhaps, though, there’s another standard we should be making those, one that doesn’t involve analytics but attitude.
“He’s a rock star,” Owen said of Spieth.
He then added: “And I can say that because I know quite a few rock stars.”