Bill Nichols

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Teenager Jordan Spieth back in the mix at HP Byron Nelson Championship

IRVING _ Jordan Spieth felt relaxed leading up to Thursday’s first round of the HP Byron Nelson Championship. He had been here, done this.

No reason to get nervous.

Before his 1:45 p.m. tee time, Spieth took five long putts. He made each one. Then he headed to No. 1. And felt just like he did last year.

It took Spieth three holes to settle down. By then he was 2 over. But he overcame the tough stretch to shoot 1-under 69 at the TPC Four Seasons at Las Colinas _ one stroke worse than last year. He enters the second round tied for 31st, five strokes behind leader Jeff Overton.

Ryan Palmer shot 65, and Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson are in a large group of 66s.

For Spieth, the Jesuit prep school senior, this round may be even more significant. He proved that he could bounce back.

``He never had to do that last year,’’ said his father, Shawn. ``I don’t know what was causing the nerves. But he didn’t quit. He slowed down his tempo and calmed himself down.’’

With a large gallery following, Spieth battled inconsistencies. He made three bogeys and one double-bogey. He also made six birdies.

In the end, he was smiling, which was impressive, considering his start.

``It was good,’’ he said. ``First three holes, I mean, I was shaking. I thought I would be ready and I thought it would be a little easier. But it wasn’t, and I lost a couple of shots just based on nerves.’’

His round could have been better. But it could have been much worse.

After splitting the first fairway with a 307-yard drive, Spieth pushed a 131-yard wedge shot right of the green, and missed a 6-foot putt to save par. On No. 3, he made bogey after losing his tee ball left

Three holes, two over. Gut check time.

On No. 4, he boomed a 306-yard drive, and hit his approach to 10 feet. Then he made the birdie putt.

``As we walked over to that putt, I said, `You’ve been tentative on the greens, hit this putt solid. That was a huge momentum swing. Once he got settled down, he played great. He left a few out there, but all in all, that was a good round with the way it started.’’

Spieth birdied the par-3 5th, and then the par-5 7th from the three feet. He drove into the right rough on 8, hit into the greenside bunker and then rattled the putt hard to save par from 10 feet.

He made the turn at 1-under 34. He made only four pars on each nine. After a birdie on 11, where he fired a juiced up chip to tap-in range, he made double-bogey on 14 after driving into the right rough.

Then he birdied 13, bogeyed 14, and then birdied 17.

``I wasn’t driving the ball well at all,’’ he said. ``I couldn’t get myself in a good position. The hardest holes out here, like 12 and 14, you can’t miss either one of those right, and I hit it way right and went over. Just kind of dumb mistakes I look back on, and I’m glad I fought through.’’

One thing he didn’t have to worry about was another late night at a Mavericks playoff game.

He was pumped, and then had trouble sleeping.

``Just mentally I wasn’t quite ready to handle the nerves, and it cost me at the beginning,’’ he said. ``But I’m glad I’m in the position I’m in going off early tomorrow before the 30-mile-an-hour wind picks up.’’

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