WINDERMERE, Fla. (AP) — Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods head into the winter break going in different directions.
Spieth wishes the new year could start tomorrow.
Woods is glad it doesn’t.
Spieth capped off a worldwide, whirlwind finish to his second year as a pro by smashing two records at the Hero World Challenge with a performance that was reminiscent of what Woods once was capable of doing. Staked to a seven-shot lead going into the final round, Spieth quickly stretched it to 10 shots and left the rest of this world-class field playing for second at Isleworth.
Consider his last three weeks on three continents.
Spieth finished one shot out of a playoff in the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan, with his agent serving as a caddie that week. He flew to Sydney and closed with a 63 to win the Australian Open by six shots. And then he flew home to Dallas for one day, arrived in Florida and won by 10 in the final event of the year.
“In general, this was the best that I’ve ever played, which is what I said in a media center in Sydney last week,” Spieth said. “I played better this week. This is the best I’ve played. Hopefully, I’ll look back and continue to grow off this week.”
Spieth finished at 26-under 262, breaking the tournament record of 266 set by Woods in 2007 and Davis Love III in 2000, both at Sherwood Country Club in California. His 10-shot victory over Henrik Stenson of Sweden was the largest margin of the year, and broke the tournament mark of seven that Woods set in 2007.
“The kid is playing great,” said Keegan Bradley, who had a 70 to tie for third with Patrick Reed (68). “You have to look at his past three events. He almost won them all. He’s a great player. I wouldn’t look more into it other than he dominated this week. It was a performance that was unbelievable, and no one could beat him.”
The end of the year was somewhat of a starting point for Woods.
He had not been seen on a golf course since Aug. 9 when he missed the cut at the PGA Championship. Woods, who already missed three months of the year after back surgery, chose to take four months off to strengthen his muscle structure. Along with the rust, he is just now starting to work with his third swing coach in five years.
And it showed.
Woods opened with a 77, and while he showed progress the rest of the way, his short game was shocking. Woods twice duffed chips on the 13th hole Sunday for a triple bogey, bringing his total to eight duffed chips for the week. He rallied for two late birdies for an even-par 72 and tied for last in the 18-man field with Hunter Mahan.
He was at even-par 288, 26 shots behind Spieth.
“He’s playing some pretty special golf right now,” Woods said of Spieth.
Woods had reason for optimism in one respect. It was the first time he played 72 holes since the British Open, and perhaps the hardest he has gone at it in more than a year. And not once did he flinch of feel any back pain. Except for flu-like symptoms on Saturday, this was a pain-free week.
“I made some progress,” Woods said. “I hadn’t played in four months and I’m in absolutely no pain, which is nice. To be able to go all out on some of these drives like I did this week really enforces what I’m doing is the right thing for my body.”
The largest gallery of the day gathered around Woods on the ninth tee, oblivious to the 21-year-old Texan on the nearby second tee making the game look easy.
Spieth has never dealt with such a large lead. It can be tempting to protect it. Instead, he came out swinging. Spieth set small goals to keep him aggressive, such as trying to stretch his seven-shot lead to 10 shots. He did that through seven holes with a 12-foot eagle putt.
And when he reached 25-under par with that eagle, he thought about how cool it would be to reach 30 under.
No such luck.
He got to 26 under with a birdie on the 10th, but then missed the 14th green with a wedge and wound up with double bogey. True to form, he made up for it with two more birdies that only affected the final margin.
Spieth is so hot at the moment that he turned to caddie Michael Greller on Saturday and said, “Is there another tournament we can play next week?”
But he’s ready for a break of at least six weeks before he cranks up his third season as a pro, already looked upon as a threat — not so much to Woods, who is rebuilding, but to Rory McIlroy, who is No. 1 in the world. Spieth was asked in Australia how close he was to No. 1 and he replied, “Far, far away.”
“Just far away,” he said with a smile.