Jordan Spieth eyes victory in Masters debut

Robert Laberge

When Jordan Spieth makes his first start at Augusta in April, last year’s rookie of the year thinks he can add a green jacket to his wardrobe.

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Jordan Spieth does not lack for confidence and that, plus his considerable skills could be enough to carry the 2013 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year to victory at his first Masters come April.

"I’m going to have to play my butt off, I have to have my A-plus game there," Spieth told reporters on Wednesday ahead of this week’s Valspar Championship, "but if we go through the right preparation, I’m on my game, then I feel like I’ve got a good shot at it."

What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, Spieth, still a teenager, entered the game at Innisbrook in what was the Tampa Bay Championship with no official PGA Tour playing standing. He did not win the event (he finished T7) but walked away with special temporary status that led to his attaining full playing privileges.

Wednesday he credited his play down the stretch 12 months ago with kick-starting a professional career that will lead him to Augusta in a month.

The winner of last year's John Deere Classic took a stroll down memory lane before looking forward to his first trip down Magnolia Lane as a competitor. Spieth credited the way he charmed the "Snake Pit" at Copperhead in last year’s Tampa Bay Championship (since renamed) for launching his 2013 magical mystery ride.

"The last three holes here were three of the biggest holes I played all last year," Spieth said. "None of the rest of it probably would have happened if I wasn’t able to hole a flop shot on 17 and get up-and-down out of the front bunker on 18."

Thanks to his stellar finish on the final three holes ranked the sixth-most difficult on tour, Spieth entered this week’s contest as one of the favorites to top a strong field but one that lacks the star power of the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, and Rory McIlroy. And while Spieth had his focus on the task at hand, the self-assured Texan can’t help but anticipate his debut in a tourney that features so many legendary "Oh my goodness" moments.

"I remember certain shots," Spieth, 20, said. "I remember Tiger's [2005] shot from the collar on 16."

Mickelson made Spieth’s highlight reel as well.

"I remember Phil's putt to win, '04?," he said. "That's as far back as I go remembering the shots. Since then, whenever I see the Masters, you know, if I'm flipping through and the Masters highlights on from the year, I'll sit down and watch that. I think it's so cool to watch that golf tournament."

Years from now, another up-and-comer may reminisce about the shot Spieth made to capture a green jacket in his first attempt at Augusta, which the former Texas Longhorn has played twice -- last fall and last month -- following a pilgrimage to Bobby Jones’ iconic home as a college student.

''Definitely the only practice round tournament I've ever been to watch,'' he said.

Spieth’s bravura may fall just a tad short of fellow Masters rookie Patrick Reed but he surely does not lack brass.

"I have a lot of confidence in my game," he said prior to last year’s PGA Championship. "I love to play with confidence, be aggressive and that's just how I've always done it. It's really reassuring that the transition [from amateur sans portfolio to tour success] has been kind of easier and quicker than normal."

Indeed, Spieth, who spanked Woods with a sizzling 63 to Tiger’s 71 in a head-to-head matchup with the world No. 1 at Torrey Pines in January, said he carried himself as a grizzled vet on the course.

"You have to think of [Woods, Mickelson, Scott, McIlroy] as your peers," he said in August at Oak Hill. "You can't really -- when you're on the course and looking up to anybody, you're saying, ‘wow, that's so and so,’ that's when you get into trouble."

Spieth insisted he would take he same poise with him to Augusta and treat the men’s first major of the season as if it were just another Valspar Championship.

"I don't walk into these kind of tournaments feeling like a rookie anymore." -Jordan Spieth

"The right way to approach it is like any other tournament, like I'm coming out here. I'm going to see the same guys I saw last week, a lot of the same guys here this week and the weeks to come," he said on Wednesday. "If I walk in with the same mindset I have at any tournament that I've had success in the past I think is the right way to do it.

"I don't walk into these kind of tournaments feeling like a rookie anymore and I think that helps me," Spieth added. "It won't be the same feeling as if I was there from the finals of the U.S. Amateur ... Having the experience of playing big tournaments in World Golf Championships now and those elite fields, I'm sure it will feel a little more normal."

How many Augusta newbies before Spieth have said the same thing? He’s proved he can contend on any given Sunday but he’ll know in little more than a month whether his approach to the Masters turns out to be a rookie mistake.

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