Thursday 29 September 2016

Spieth insists water torture is behind him

James Corrigan

Published 12/05/2016 | 02:30

Jordan Spieth during practice for his return to tournament golf today. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Jordan Spieth during practice for his return to tournament golf today. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Even when Jordan Spieth is irritated he still manages to sound gracious. When making his first public appearance since his extraordinary Augusta collapse a month ago, the 22-year-old seemed more anxious to defend Danny Willett's reputation than his own.

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Here this week, The Players Championship will witness the American's comeback and many will look at all the water on this Stadium Course and wince as they recall Spieth throwing away a second Green Jacket in Rae's Creek with that quadruple-bogey seven on the 12th.

But it is not what observers think about Spieth's mental strength which bothers him, but what they have been saying about the Yorkshireman who capitalised on his errors. "It really bugs me when people are trying to take that maybe away from him or shoot it down, and the questions have been asked to Danny: 'Do you think this will go down as you winning or him losing?' " Spieth said. "And that's absolute bull; because Danny won it and he earned it."

This is also Willett's first appearance since the Masters and although it will be intriguing to see how he fares, the brunt of the spotlight will inevitably fall upon on Spieth when he ventures out with world No 1 Jason Day.

Experts such as Johnny Miller have expressed the view that the experience will "haunt Jordan for a long time" and that the next time he is in contention he will be thinking 'I hope I don't fall apart like I did at Augusta'.

However, in dismissing the notion that the infamous island-green 17th would be the ideal hole on which to prove himself, Spieth declared there will be no Augusta ghosts to exorcise.

"If it catches a gust and goes in the water, it's not because of the Masters," Spieth said. "It's not something that was in my head. It takes a lot of nerve to hit the right shots down the stretch here. You have the second shot on 16, tee-shot on 17, tee-shot on 18… Yeah, sure, if I can get into contention and stay committed and put the right swings on those three shots, then I will take confidence away from that.

"But, to be honest, I don't really care what anybody else will take away from it. I'll be pleased because I'll feel like we're back to hitting the right shots under pressure."

Spieth finished in a tie for fourth here in 2014, but missed the cut last year in the wake of his Masters glory and, of course, it is as easy to suffer a hangover from agony as it is from ecstasy.

"I don't think I have anything to prove," he said. "I think I've already proven what I'm capable of doing when the pressure is on."

And Rory McIlroy is one who does not expect Spieth to suffer a reaction. "Jordan will be just fine - he's very resilient," he said. "We've all seen that over the last number of years. He's coming back to a place here where he played well a couple years ago and had a chance to win. I think it was smart to take those four weeks off to decompress and then come back fresh for this."

In contrast, the Ulster ace boasts match-fitness, having finished fourth in Charlotte on Sunday and after missing the cut in his first three Players Championships, he also has top-10 finishes in the last three years in his favour.

But he must overcome a remarkable statistic if he is to win his first title of the season.

Since 2013, McIlroy is 12-over for the front nine of the Stadium Course - and 36-under for the back nine.

"Why the difference?" McIlroy said. "There's nothing I can put my finger on."

As Spieth would testify, it's just golf. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

The Players Championship, Live, Sky Sports 4, 6.0pm

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