IRVING _ Jordan Spieth is stronger, longer and wiser.
But can he possibly be as big as he was at last year’s HP Byron Nelson Championship?
The Dallas amateur turned the Nelson into a national news story. Fans flocked to the TPC Four Seasons to support the Jesuit prep school junior as he contended with PGA Tour players. He matched his age with his finish, a tie for 16th.
Although it seems far-fetched that he could duplicate the drama, that's what most people thought last year.
Spieth will be playing to win when he tees off on Thursday.
``I really think it’s going to be something special,’’ said his friend/caddie Kramer Hickok from Trinity Christian Academy. ``I’d call top-10 this week. Out of all the times I played with him, I’ve never seen him hit it so well. He’s been preparing for this tournament for the past month.’’
The 2010 Nelson has become his calling card, but Spieth said it's not his ceiling. During the final round, he trailed by three strokes until a double-bogey on No. 15. He expects the experience to improve his chances of moving up the leaderboard. He hopes to put himself in the same position so he can change the outcome.
``I think I played about as well as I could have the first three rounds,’’ Spieth said. ``I was real calm the first three days. But the last round I got caught up in what was going on. This year I realize that, although it’s really fun, I want to keep the gas pedal down if I can make it till Sunday.’’
Spieth said that competing at the highest level will help keep him relaxed. He said he felt more at ease around the Tour players on Tuesday. He certainly looked it, lying on the fringe of the practice green as two buddies gave him grief: ``You're so great, Jordan, you're a superstar.''
After rolling his eyes, Spieth said:
``There are more expectations this year, but I just want to get out and play my own game and don’t make it a bigger deal than it is. I was extremely happy with the way it went, but this year I feel like I’m more prepared. If I’m telling myself this is a huge event, a huge deal, then it will be harder to play well.’’
Spieth, who will room with Hickok at Texas in the fall, will at least look different.
His hair has been cropped short, the result of a lost bet. He doesn’t appear stronger because he got his ears lowered. It’s because he has gained 20-25 pounds because of an intense training regimen.
Hickok said the added distance will make the TPC play about two strokes easier. He said Spieth’s recent rounds at the TPC included a 65 and a 66, including back-nine scores of 31 and 30.
``If he gets off to a good start it’s going to be something very special because he plays the back nine so well,’’ Hickok said. ``If he can get one under or even through 5 and 6, the rest of the holes he can really tear up. I think he’s really controlling his adrenaline better. Last year he was shaking on the first tee. He’s a smarter player and a different player.’’
Spieth did a good job of keeping his drives in the fairways during Tuesday’s practice round. Hickok said he missed only one.
``He hit the ball well,’’ said veteran Justin Leonard, who played with him. ``He is very polished for his age.’’
Spieth had to deal with the distraction of school work last year, but not this time. School this week will be on the golf course.
``I feel a little more comfortable,’’ he said. ``I remember last year, even in the practice round, I was feeling nerves, and today it was real easy since I kind of know the guys already. I just want to get out there first two rounds and just be consistent and try to get up towards the top. We’ll see.’’