CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Jordan Spieth felt he was on the verge of shooting himself out of the PGA Championship. Instead of looking at his scorecard, he considered what he had left to play at Quail Hollow.
He gunned his putt from just short of the fifth green about 10 feet by the hole and missed that one for bogey. He did the same thing on the par-3 sixth hole, and suddenly he was 3 over for the round. At that point, he looked a lot closer to a weekend off than the final leg of the career Grand Slam.
Waiting in the fairway on the par-5 seventh gave him time to think.
“I thought to myself: ‘They are not giving birdies at all. You have to pull off some solid shots to make birdies on those holes,’” Spieth said.
When the green cleared, he ripped a hybrid from 246 yards over the water and onto the green, where it settled 30 feet away on the fringe to set up a two-putt birdie. He hit another good drive on the short par-4 eighth and hit a wedge that skipped and stopped a foot from the cup for another birdie.
A solid par on his last hole allowed Spieth to escape with a 72.
It was a reasonable start to his quest for the career Grand Slam because it could have been worse.
“I had a couple of easy holes left,” Spieth said. “If I were to finish par-par-par, I would have thrown myself out of the tournament. … If I was focused on my score, it might have been a different story. I was focused on what we had left.”
His caddie, Michael Greller, told him to have three good birdie chances and see where that left him.
“I had three looks, and almost got back all the way to even,” Spieth said.
It was still five shots behind Thorbjorn Olesen, who shot 67 to lead the morning wave. It was four shots worse than U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, who almost missed his share of putts and shot a 68.
Spieth was concerned going into the week about his driver, especially with a 7,600-yard course and turf that had been soft because of rain.
Turns out it was his putting.
He didn’t make a putt longer than 5 feet all day, though part of that was the firm, fast nature of the new greens at Quail Hollow.
“Some of these putts that I had for birdie are really one-out-of-five to make,” he said. “I didn’t make the one out of five. Instead, I missed the 10 out of 10 from that kind of range. If I grabbed a couple of those, then I would be pleased.”
Spieth looked like he had the greens mastered early on, particular on the 12th hole when his wedge went to the top shelf of the green and the pin was at bottom, some 70 feet away. He sent the putt some 25 feet to the right along a spine, it slowed as it caught the ridge and then turned hard to left and stopped a foot from the hole.
That was as good as it got all day.
His 125-foot eagle putt from the front of the 14th green caught a slope and the grain and rolled off the green and into the putt. Twice more on the front nine, he had long lags from just off the green that ran out 10 feet or more and led to the bogeys.
“His speed was a little bit off from about 40 feet,” Koepka said. “He had a couple putts that he just ran them 10, 15 feet by. But he struck it really well. It was pretty impressive to watch him play No. 7. He’s a grinder. It’s impressive to watch him play. He picks apart a golf course really, really well. At that age, that’s a lot of maturity.”
It’s what has put Spieth in position to become the sixth — and at age 24, the youngest — player to complete the career Grand Slam. Spieth won the Masters and U.S. Open two years ago, and then added the British Open last month.
Spieth said he wouldn’t feel additional pressure because he already has a major this year.
“I don’t think I was as free rolling as I thought I would be, as you can tell by some frustration,” he said. “If I would have shot 1 over and didn’t strike it well and everything was average, it would have been fine. But when I had the chances that I had and I just couldn’t get the ball to go in on the greens, that is when I get the most frustrated I can get out there.”