Jordan Spieth was living thrill ride at Arnold Palmer Invitational
Orlando, Fla. – Space Mountain, the iconic twisting-in-darkness Disney World roller coaster, is 13 miles from Bay Hill.
Thirteen miles from the golf course Arnold Palmer developed for his annual tournament, Blizzard Beach is home to a ride called the Summit Plummet, a 120-foot free-fall slide.
Twelve miles away is Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where the thrill ride of choice is the Tower of Terror, a free-fall elevator.
SeaWorld is 6 miles away. This is where you’ll find Ice Breaker, a roller coaster that boasts the steepest drop in Florida; Mako, which is the tallest coaster in the state; and the Kraken, a floorless coaster.
Just 4 miles away is Universal Studios and the Incredible Hulk roller coaster, featuring corkscrew turns and zero gravity.
In Sunday’s final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, Jordan Spieth was a living, breathing thrill ride.
In the world we live in with up-charges for almost everything, when Spieth is in contention at tournaments the PGA Tour should demand higher prices and bill it as the “Jordan Spieth Experience.”
Spieth was at his thrill-a-minute best on Sunday and it was positively fitting considering the area in which the tournament is played is the theme park capital of the earth.
Spieth did not win a golf tournament on Sunday. Kurt Kitayama, a 30-year-old journeyman who has played on 11 different tours around the world, was fitted for the Palmer cardigan sweater as the winner at 9-under par, two shots better than Spieth.
But Spieth was the show. If you were there in person, it was something to behold, watching him go up and down to save par from everywhere but Ernie’s former townhouse down the street from the clubhouse and lodge. If you were at home, it was must-see TV.
Phil Mickelson, one of the greatest shot-making showmen in the history of the game, was buoyed by his ability as a great magician with a golf club in hand, constantly pulling himself out of trouble.
While Spieth certainly has that Houdini gene, he doesn’t necessarily embrace it.
When I asked him after his round if he was in any rush to make a goal-saving shot, Spieth said, “I would say the least stressed I was was when I hit 17 of 18 greens at Pebble Inn. had hit. One final round and won the tournament (2017 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am). And that’s what I’m trying to do every time.
“I appreciate my ability to not give up and see a shot where others can’t and go ahead and pull it off.”
There was a “but” somewhere after that sentence.
When Spieth one-putted for par at the 11th, he had taken just 12 putts over the first 11 holes of the round. When he one-putted for birdie on the 13th hole, he took the tournament lead at 10-under par and the “Jordan Spieth Experience” was in overdrive.
Then it all went horribly wrong for him.
He burned the right edge of the cup with a 5-foot par putt at the par-3 14th.
He then pulled his tee shot on 15 to the left rough next to a boundary fence, punched out and made an excellent chip to within 4 feet on the 15th green and again pushed his par putt just to the right of the hole.
Spieth’s tee shot on the par-5 16th hole also went left, forcing him to lie up with his second shot, and yet, with a great wedge shot on the green he earned a 5-foot putt for birdie. But he also burned the edge of that tee, settling for a par that felt like a bogey.
At that point, Spieth had missed 9 of 13 fairways and was just one shot off the lead with two holes still to play.
“The Jordan Spieth Experience.”
Spieth would miss the green on 17 and fall to 7 under and fail to get over par. On 18, he piped his drive into the center of the fairway but couldn’t birdie the hole and was looking out.
As he walked across the street from the 18th green to the scoring area, Spieth was greeted by his wife, Anne, and their 1-year-old son, Sammy, who ran into his arms. Spieth picked him up and disappeared into the scoring trailer with him for a few minutes.
When Spieth emerged from the trailer and spoke to reporters, he did his best to put his roller-coaster day in perspective.
“I’m happy to be back in a lot of things,” Spieth said. “I felt it coming. So, I feel pretty good about where things are at.”
With that, Spieth signed a few autographs for his adoring fans, hopped into his courtesy car with Annie and Sammy and drove off, the “Jordan Spieth Experience” darkening to the next stop: TPC Sawgrass this week for The Players Championship. .