Spieth with a chance to start the year with a win

January 6, 2014 - 5:04 AM
Tournament of Champions Golf

Dustin Johnson waves to the gallery on the 14th green during the third round of the Tournament of Champions golf tournament, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, in Kapalua, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — One tournament into the new year and Jordan Spieth already is facing a new adventure in his young and wonderful world of golf.

What he thought might be a tap-in birdie turned into a maddening struggle for par on the final hole Sunday in the Tournament of Championship, but that 8-foot par putt gave him a 4-under 69 and a share of the 54-hole lead with defending champion Dustin Johnson and Webb Simpson.

"This is a new position for me," Spieth said. "I've never slept on a 54-hole lead. I'm excited about it and it's going to be a fun time tomorrow."

Spieth was five shots behind going into the last round when he rallied to catch, and then beat, Zach Johnson in a playoff at the John Deere Classic that put him on the fast track. He was one shot back at Greensboro, where he lost in a playoff. He has played in the Tour Championship, played in the Presidents Cup, two majors, one World Golf Championship.

So no, he doesn't blink in the presence of a powerful figure like Dustin Johnson, or a former U.S. Open champion like Webb Simpson.

That doesn't make Monday any easier.

Spieth headed off to the practice green before the sun started dropping over the west end of Maui. He wants some confidence back on the tough putting surfaces at Kapalua, and then he'll devise a game plan going into the last day. Spieth said he'll lean on his experience in college, which was just more than a year ago.

"The biggest key when I was in this position ... was not to try and win by one. It was to try to get out there, get way ahead and you almost have the mindset that you want to go out there and try to win by five shots," he said. "That's the only way that I think you can break open and really make some birdies."

No matter who was in contention in the first PGA Tour event of the year — more than just the co-leaders — one thing was clear. It was key to take advantage of the par 5s and short par 4s — as many as six of them, all with tricky approach shots — and post something low.

And that's why Dustin Johnson was running hot.

He played the two par 5s in 3-under on the front, including a second shot to tap-in range for eagle on the par-5 ninth hole, but from prime position in the fairway, he had to settle for pars on the back nine for a 68.

"I think it's going to take 6- or 7-under. That would be my guess," he said. "You can shoot that in any weather out here if you get it going."

Simpson had four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine for a 68 and was part of the tie at 14-under 205. If not for being on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, he might not have been here for the last two rounds.

Simpson is borrowing the caddie of Bubba Watson (Ted Scott), because his regular caddie stayed in Florida for the birth of his son. Paul Tesori's son, Isaiah, had a seizure moments after birth and is in intensive care. Simpson has been getting as many details as he can, but he played Sunday with a heavy heart.

"Paul sent me a text this morning, just told me he loved me and wanted to go out and fight as hard as I would any other day," Simpson said. "And that's what Teddy and I did. I felt like we were out there playing for Isaiah. Paul needs something to watch there in the hospital. It's been a long few days, so hopefully, we gave him something good to see on TV. But it was tough. I was thinking about him a lot out there."

Winning on Monday won't be easy.

Zach Johnson, who had a three-shot lead going into the third round, couldn't make anything and shot a 74. His only birdie was a two-putt on the par-5 fifth hole. Still, he was only two shots behind at 12-under 207 heading into the Monday finish.

Instead of building his lead, Johnson effectively gave more players in this winners-only field a chance.

Gary Woodland (67), PGA champion Jason Dufner (69), Brandt Snedeker (69) and Kevin Streelman, who had a 33 on the back nine to salvage a 70, were within three shots of the lead. Masters champion Adam Scott wasted a chance to join them.

Scott was at 11-under and in range of the par-5 15th until he smothered a long iron into the hazard and had to scramble for a bogey. He missed a 7-foot birdie putt on the next hole, missed the green and took bogey on the 17th and closed with a birdie for a 69. He still was only four shots behind.