Jordan Spieth looked over the lip of the bunker, 61 feet, 5 inches from the hole. Fellow playoff combatant and friend Daniel Berger waited for him.
Jordan Lewites, Spieth’s co-manager, watching from just up the hill left of the 18th green, leaned into Spieth’s pal Ryan Palmer, who had finished his round.
“Jordan wants to go home,” Lewites said. “This is going in.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Spieth hit perhaps the most electric shot of the PGA TOUR season so far, a walk-off hole-out to capture the Travelers Championship in his first time playing the tournament. His 10th TOUR title shook TPC River Highlands as Spieth threw his lob wedge out of the bunker and crashed into his caddie Michael Greller.
“Unbelievable,” Palmer said, speaking for many.
“Jordan does Jordan things,” Berger said.
“I went nuts,” Spieth said. “That was fun.”
Spieth’s latest TOUR victory brought echoes of his first, at the 2013 John Deere Classic, where he got into a playoff by holing out from a bunker on the 72nd hole. Maybe that’s why Lewites, who was there that day, had a premonition, as did Justin Thomas, who also called the shot on Twitter.
“I guess if you call something enough times, every once in a while, one of them goes in,” Spieth said. “At least I think this one had good speed going in. I've always taken some crap from my peers about the John Deere one potentially going off the green or into the water or whatever.”
Spieth moved up to fourth in the FedExCup standings with his second victory this season, and invited comparisons to Tiger Woods, the only other player to win at least 10 times before age 24. (Woods was nearly five months younger than Spieth when he collected his 10th win, and won 15 times before turning 24.) Spieth also moved to 4-2 in playoffs.
Obviously, that was one for the ages. I don't know if I'll ever have a moment like that again. That was -- if I was in Berger's shoes, I'd be cursing Jordan Spieth right now for the break off the tee and then holing a 30-yard bunker shot. That's a lot of walk. But I took advantage of the good breaks and happy to come out on top. We played great. The putter let me down today, but all in all this is a huge victory for us in the middle of the season as we go into this second half of the major season.
The hole-out, he said, elicited perhaps the loudest roar of his young career, and came shortly after he got up and down from the same bunker to save par and force extra holes.
“He’s pretty good out of bunkers when it matters,” caddie Greller said. “When he was over the second one, I was just having flashbacks to [Travelers champions] Ken Duke and Russell Knox throwing his hat and Kevin Streelman making seven birdies in a row.
“I was like: Magic happens here.”
Spieth birdied his first two holes Sunday, only to sputter on the back nine. He missed a short par putt on 14 and thought he’d driven his ball into the water at the 15th, only to learn it had held up in the rough. His drive bonked off a tree and into the fairway on the playoff hole.
“This is probably my luckiest win, for sure, with all the breaks I got today,” he said.
But Spieth typifies the old saw, The harder I work, the luckier I get. Despite struggling mightily on the poa annua greens Sunday, he never gave up. He never does.
“He works hard at his game and gets everything out of it that he can,” said Troy Merritt (66, T8), who played with Spieth and Patrick Reed (66, T5) in the third round. “He grinds it out.
“Every aspect of his game is good, so if one or two are off, he’s still going to be able to make up for it. It was the same kind of thing with Tiger when he played so well.”
Merritt did not excel when he was grouped with Spieth in the third round, shooting a 73. But he noticed something interesting: “Jordan really cheers for you. He wants you to do well.”
Ask around on TOUR, and you hear similar praise for Spieth the person. Johnson Wagner (70, T43) is such a fan he’s trying to get his son to make Spieth his favorite player.
But even with his likeability, Spieth’s competiveness stands out. When he wasn’t on the course this week, he was hanging out with his pal Smylie Kaufman (69, T35). They played gin-rummy, and Spieth won. They played credit cart roulette after dinners together. Spieth won.
“Yesterday was his off-day,” Kaufman said of Spieth’s third-round 66, which featured three birdies in his last four holes. “And he turned it into a 4-under. I could just tell that it was. It wasn’t a clean round. He made a bunch of birdies, but also a bunch of bogeys. The days that he doesn’t have it, he’s able to get down. That’s the most impressive part, I’d say.”
Other players say the same thing about Spieth’s grit.
“I played a practice round with him at the U.S. Open,” said Jim Furyk (68, T26). “He’s just a fun kid to be around. I love his game. I love his competitiveness.
“I love being around him. It makes me younger. Amongst a group of very, very competitive people, he sticks out to me as competitive, which is a compliment.”
Spieth let Greller take the first look at TPC River Highlands, and the caddie immediately saw that the course was perfect for his boss. At 6,841 yards, the par 70 is no bomber’s paradise. Spieth’s brand of precision shot-making would play well in Connecticut. After the grind of the U.S. Open (T35), Spieth took Monday off, and rested Tuesday morning, too.
“Coming on the tail end of six out of seven weeks, it was the right kind of place, the right mixture,” Greller said. “It wasn’t too stressful to get around. There was a lot of good energy.”
Spieth joined Justin Thomas (3), Dustin Johnson (3) and Hideki Matsuyama (2) as multiple winners this season. “I'm surprised 12-under won,” he said. “Especially after the first couple of holes. I was rolling and thought we'd get to 16 [under], which was the goal.”
Asked to evaluate his performance, he said he was proudest of having kept his composure despite no putts dropping in the middle of the round. Greller helped keep his spirits up.
“My role as caddie, my biggest role, I think, is just getting him to believe in himself, and being a cheerleader,” Greller said. “He is still only 23. When he’s in the mix he historically does really well. He’s not afraid to have the lead. We did it at the Masters in ’15, we did it at Tiger’s tournament in ’14. He embraces the lead. He loves that spot.”
Asked if he would keep the bunker rake that flew into the air after Spieth’s hole-out on 18, Greller said, “I’m thinking about it, yeah. It would look good in the man cave.”
Asked about Spieth winning 10 times before turning 24, Kaufman smiled.
“It’s stupid,” he said, shaking his head. “The next dinner is him.”
Spieth sat before the press, the winner’s blue blazer on his shoulders and the trophy before him. He wasn’t sure where he would play next. He’s got two more majors, the FedExCup Playoffs, and The Presidents Cup. A reporter asked him if he was glad he came to Hartford.
“Yeah,” Spieth said. “Are you?”