FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – It's not that Jordan Spieth didn't warn everyone.
Ahead of the start of the 101st PGA Championship, Spieth cut off a question in his news conference and signaled that all things, despite evidence to the contrary, were on the upswing.
"As you're in this bit of a slump," the question began.
"Was," Spieth said with authority.
After two rounds at Bethpage Black, Spieth has proved himself correct. With a 4-under-par 66 Friday, he moved to 5 under through 36 holes and onto the first page of the leaderboard. When he put his signature to his scorecard, only Brooks Koepka was above Spieth on the leaderboard.
While it once was a customary position for Spieth – he won 10 PGA Tour titles and three major championships from 2015-17 – he rarely has been a resident on the first page of the leaderboard for some time.
Jordan Spieth lines up his putt on the 12th green during the second round of the PGA Championship. (Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)
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His last win came in the 2017 British Open. His last top 10 came in the 2018 British Open. He has yet to have a top 20 this year. But he gained some confidence in last week's AT&T Byron Nelson when he tied for 29th.
"I didn't feel that I was in fantastic form, but I also really liked what I saw with the putter, and I thought that I hit the ball better than what showed last week," said Spieth, who is a PGA Championship short of the career Grand Slam. "I was just kind of messing with a few things on some holes, and so it won't actually show up on the stats the right way.
"I figured if I just kind of stayed out of my own way, stick to, you know, one thought, try and nail it in Tuesday, Wednesday, and then stay through that and stop trying to change things up throughout the week like I've done in the past, that it was in good enough shape to be able to contend."
Through 36 holes, Spieth has been the Spieth of old, the vintage form where the putter is delivering, the scrambling is saving him, and the driver isn't killing him. In Friday's second round, he was 4-for-4 in par saves out of bunkers. He drained both short and long putts for par and birdie. He limited his trouble off the tee.
"I'm seeing tighter targets the better I'm hitting it; and therefore, I'm standing on tees willing to take on draws when there's trouble right and just knowing how to get the ball drawing and missing left, if anything," Spieth said.
SOLO [email protected] from 39 feet for ?.
He’s just two off the lead. #LiveUnderParpic.twitter.com/G0psDKIHOk
The best two examples he was speaking to came on the par-4, 488-yard seventh and par-4, 504-yard 12th. On the seventh, his drive was perfect. On the 12th, his 4-iron into the wind to the green from 227 yards stopped within 10 feet of the cup.
He said he had no chance of hitting that drive on seven earlier this year, and said he had no business hitting the green with the 4-iron on 12. His confidence up until two weeks ago was nearly shot. That isn't the case anymore.
"I get the feel through my hands and recognize what I did to produce that," Spieth said. "It's all just progress, from the work off the course. I'm able to think about aim small, miss small more. Michael (Greller, his caddie) is doing a good job coming on to the tee and saying, 'Hey, where are you trying to hit this shot?' I'm 100% not hitting it as well as I did a couple years ago, but I'm hitting it a lot better than I did the end of last year and the beginning of this year."
And his bread-and-butter – the putter – is mighty tasty again. Spieth said he's about 90% compared to his best days with the putter.
"The only difference-maker is I think just speed control. Speed control has still been just a little bit iffy," he said. "But I feel as good or better 15 feet and in. I feel like I'm where I should be (with the putter). I've put a lot of thought and work into it, and the putting feels good.
"It was a bonus to have the right reads and the right pace and with some of the putts I made today. I don't expect to putt as well as I did today, each and every day. It's just not possible. But it feels consistent enough to where the good days are like they were today, and off days, I'm still rolling some good putts and still coming away with some confidence."
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