PALM HARBOR, Fla. (AP) — Jordan Spieth’s short game was as exquisite as ever. It only figures he would win the Valspar Championship with a long putt.
Spieth was three shots behind with six holes to play when he walked to the tee on the par-3 13th hole trying to think of a way he could at least get into a playoff at Innisbrook. He never imagined it would play out the way it did.
Two holes later, he was tied for the lead.
Over the final three holes, the 21-year-old Texan was merely trying to hang on with pars.
A wild afternoon on the Copperhead course filled with back-nine charges, long birdie putts and improbable par saves finally ended when Spieth made a 30-foot birdie putt on the par-3 17th to win on the third playoff hole over Patrick Reed and Sean O’Hair.
“Just happened to be my day,” Spieth said, a mixture of excitement and relief.
Spieth won for the second time on the PGA Tour — both in a playoff — and picked up his fourth victory worldwide, with three of them in the last eight starts. He is up to a career-high No. 6 in the world, and has surpassed the $10 million mark in PGA Tour career earnings. He also has a load of confidence heading into a week off before his two Texas events ahead of the Masters.
This was a playoff that someone was going to have to win, and it felt like an injustice for anyone to lose. It was the fourth straight week of a playoff on the PGA Tour (including last weekend in Puerto Rico), and the eighth playoff in 18 events this season.
And it might have been the best of them all.
Reed played his final 30 holes without a bogey and closed with a 30-foot birdie on the 18th hole in regulation for a 66 and the first one to get to 10-under 274. O’Hair now has gone 87 PGA Tour events since his last win in the 2011 Canadian Open, though it sure didn’t look like he was in a slump. He was solid all week, from his opening 66, and delivered four birdies and two clutch pars over the final eight holes for a 67 to join Reed at 274.
Spieth had to work the hardest to get there. He quickly caught a faltering Ryan Moore with a 10-foot birdie on the 13th and a 30-foot birdie on the 14th, and Spieth nearly made it three in a row until missing a 7-foot birdie on the 15th for the lead.
Then, it was a matter of hanging on.
With his right foot in the sand and his left foot in the grass on a slope above the bunker, he blasted out to 3 feet on the 16th to save par. It looked as if he would fall behind when he hit 6-iron right of the green on the par-3 17th. He said to caddie Michael Greller, “Please be a good lie or not on a down slope.”
It was a terrible lie on a down slope.
Spieth hit a flop shot that landed perfectly and rolled 6 feet by the hole, and he saved his par. On the 18th, he hit a fat shot from a fairway bunker some 35 yards short, with a clump of grass behind it and the grain of the grass into the ball. Greller’s advice was for Spieth to at least have a chance for par. He hit another flop to 12 feet, and the putt fell on the last turn from the left side of the cup.
“A crazy back nine,” Spieth said.
The playoff was even more bizarre. The 24-year-old Reed also has a short game, and he showed that off on the 18th in the playoff when his approach plugged into the lip. He blasted out to just under 10 feet and rolled it in as if he was on the practice green. On the next playoff hole, he caught a flyer with his 8-iron and it sailed over the 16th green, in grass so deep he could barely see it. Trouble? Not really. Reed nearly holed it.
“I didn’t like him still in the playoff,” Spieth said with a smile about Reed, a friend and partner in the Ryder Cup. “He was plugged up in the lip and we’re counting him out. You can’t count him out. He’s just a competitor. Finds a way to get it done.”
On the third playoff hole, Reed had a tough bunker shot that he hit to 6 feet.
“I didn’t even have to hit the putt because Jordan poured it in,” Reed said.
O’Hair, a 32-year-old with four kids, twice rolled in birdie putts longer than 25 feet. He saved par with a 6-foot putt on the 15th, and then scrambled for par on the 18th. In the playoff, he had a 12-foot birdie putt on the second hole (No. 16) and it spun out of the right lip.
“I gave myself a chance,” O’Hair said. “That’s really all I can do. I played solid all day, played solid all week, and then the playoff was a ton of fun. Two young guys made me feel really old.”
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