Is Safeway a bridge to nowhere for Spieth?

© Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

NAPA, Calif. — The round was better, two under par, three shots lower than the previous day. Yet it wasn’t good enough to get Jordan Spieth to the weekend.

The troubles continue. The questions never end.

What’s wrong with a young man who was winning majors but now can’t even win a tournament — indeed, can’t even contend?

This was golf’s restart. A sport that ignores the Gregorian calendar, declaring that a new year began this week. A chance to forget the past. Unless it remains painfully unforgettable.

Some are calling this Safeway Open at Silverado a bridge event, because it bridges the distance from last week’s season-ending Tour Championship to next week’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot. For Spieth, it’s a bridge to nowhere.

He made six birdies Friday. He also made a double-bogey 7 on his closing hole, the relatively easy 9th, a 560-yard par-5 where later in day Harry Higgs made 2, a double eagle or albatross. One hole, five shots' difference.

The difference in Spieth, who won a Masters and U.S. Open in 2015 and the British Open in 2017, seems inexplicable, although many have given explanations. Or were they excuses?

Did Jordan lose his putting touch? He did hole a long one Friday. Did he put too much emphasis on trying to get longer off the tee? Did the game turn on him like an angry lion, all the good breaks — remember that blind shot from the practice area at Royal Birkdale? — becoming bad breaks?

Spieth was one of the great interviews, along with Rory McIlroy. They had opinions on everything, although understandably these days Jordan is not quite as loquacious. He sat down for a long while before the PGA Championship, although there were no comments here at the Safeway.

At the PGA at Harding Park, not far from Silverado, Spieth was his normal communicative self.

“It's almost — I almost feel at times like the game is testing me a little bit right now,” he said, “because I feel really good about the progress I've been making, and then it seems like I'll really have one brewing, and then I'll get where I used to hit a tree and go in the fairway, it'll hit a tree and go off the cart path out of bounds.

“It just feels like I kind of, here or there, am taking some punches right now as I'm really progressing in the right direction.”

Golf, any sport, is as much mental as physical. Then again, how many times can you persuade yourself everything is fine when you’re over par? At the PGA, Spieth uncharacteristically smacked a club against the ground after a bad shot.

“I feel like you can look at it a couple ways," he said. "You can get really upset and complain about it, which I've done and that's not helpful, or you can look at it like, hey, this is part of the game testing you, and the better you handle these situations, the faster you progress forward.”

Spieth has 11 victories since becoming a pro in 2013, including those three majors, but none since 2017. He knows what he can do but, over the last three years, has been unable to do it. And every year, there are more young players on Tour to make the task more difficult.

“I'm in no hurry,” said the 27-year-old Spieth. “I’ve got a lot of years in front of me and hopefully the best years in front of me. I just stay the course. I keep my head down, focus on what our team is trying to accomplish and work each day really, really hard.

“I’ve worked my butt off over the last year mentally, physically and mechanically. Things will start to come together. I believe it.”

They certainly didn’t this Safeway Open.