When Dustin Johnson withdrew from the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am early in the week, there was only one question anyone was interested in for the first few rounds: what Jordan Spieth would do for an encore following his enrapturing performance at the Waste Management Phoenix Open last week? The answer in Round 1 was continue to hit his irons at a tremendous clip, hole out for eagle and bag a 7-under 65 to sit a few strokes back of the lead after 18 holes.
The Spieth roller coaster started early as he birdied the first two holes and went out in 34. After a solid first nine, he holed out on the par-4 10th and made three more birdies coming home for the 65, which was five better than the field average at Pebble Beach on Thursday (players in the field are playing both Pebble and Spyglass Hill, which played as the tougher of the two courses in Round 1).
Spieth’s driving was average (which is great for him right now), but his iron play was again terrific. He put together his seventh straight round of positive strokes-gained on approach shots — a number he has not reached since the end of 2018 — and let his short game do the scoring. In other words, it was a classic Jordan Spieth round and the first step in proving that Phoenix was not an outlier but rather a mashing of the reset button on his career.
Friday’s round will be a tougher test as Spyglass played two shots more difficult on Thursday than Pebble did, and Spieth’s tee-to-green game will be tested even more than it was on Thursday. Still, with D.J. out and a dearth of stars present at this tournament, Spieth getting involved with his contemporary Patrick Cantlay, as well as the young phenom Akshay Bhatia (see below) playing out of his mind, is great for what this tournament could be over the next few days.
Let’s take a look at the Round 1 leaderboard.
1. Patrick Cantlay (-10): He had a chance to go out in 28 but “settled” for 29 and closed the back nine in 33 to tie the course record held by David Duval and Tom Kite. Cantlay might be the greater version of Xander Schauffele. No holes in the game, no place where he has to play beyond his normal talent level to find success. He was a factor here last year, and is now a live +175 favorite to win this time around. He won’t putt it as well as he did on Thursday in every round, but he also won’t need to to roll to his fourth career PGA Tour win.
T2. Akshay Bhatia, Henrik Norlander (-8): Bhatia, who hit all 18 greens in regulation, was two years prior to birth when Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open here by 15 strokes. He’s roughly the same age Spieth was when Spieth won the John Deere Classic in 2013 but already talks (and plays) like a veteran. Friday will be interesting because leading PGA Tour events is much different than playing in them, but I’m elated to follow his next 54.
T4. Nate Lashley, Jordan Spieth (-7): Remember at the beginning of the week when this was one of the worst strength-of-field events we’d seen all season? Doesn’t feel that way right now, and Spieth is the primary reason for the juice (despite Cantlay’s course record). One other note on Spieth that we discussed on the First Cut Podcast on Thursday evening is how much more he seemed to be enjoying himself in Round 1. The last three years have been an absolute grind — and maybe it’s always easy to enjoy 65s at Pebble — but he seemed to have a swagger and an ease about himself that’s been absent for a long time. Big three days on deck.
T6. Mark Hubbard, Will Gordon, Russell Knox, Brian Stuard, Tom Lewis (-6): One thing to note here is that Gordon’s 66 at Spyglass Hill was the round of the day there and tantamount to shooting 64 at Pebble Beach (like Bhatia and Norlander). Other solid Spyglass rounds included Daniel Berger (67), Bronson Burgoon (68), Ben Taylor (68) and Paul Casey (68), who has interesting 14-1 odds going into Round 2.
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