USA team member Jordan Spieth watches his hit off of the 8th tee during day 1 of the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota on September 30, 2016. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- The 12th hole at Augusta? The two balls in the creek last April? Ancient history now. For Jordan Spieth, for his fans, and not the least for golf.
He may have lost on one of the sport's biggest stages, but Sunday, in the sunshine, alongside the crashing surf, he won on another big stage.
This was what Spieth wanted, a confidence-booster, a victory early in the calendar year, and at Pebble Beach, in the tournament sponsored by his main product endorser, and that was what Spieth got, a win in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
Starting the day with a six-shot lead, Spieth did exactly what a smart, talented player should do, playing safely, shooting a solid if unspectacular two-birdie, no-bogey 70 for a 72-hole score of 268. That was four shots better than Kelly Kraft, as Spieth, a Texan, who closed with a 67.
"This definitely is a bucket-list place to win," said Spieth, 23, after his ninth victory as a pro -- two of those wins in the 2015 Masters and U.S. Open.
But it was in 2016 Masters, ahead and heading into back nine of the final round, where Spieth at the par-3 12th hole hit consecutive shots into Rae's Creek for a double bogey, figuratively tossing the tournament into the water as well.
"Here, Augusta National, St. Andrews," he said of Pebble Beach. "I mean there's only a few in the world, it feels really special. It was amazing walking up the 18th green knowing that we were going to win. It's just such a unique position. I tried to soak it in."
As opposed to soaking his golf ball at the Masters in 2016, a mistake that had others questioning him for months. The questions are finished.
Dustin Johnson, the 2016 U.S. Open champion, shot a 68 for 273 to finish third, one better than Brandt Snedeker, who began the day in second but could only shoot 70 for 274. Both Johnson and Snedeker are two-time winners of the AT&T.
Gary Woodland, world No. 1 Jason Day and Jon Rahm, who won two weeks ago at San Diego, tied for fifth at 275, Woodland after a 10-birdie, three-bogey 65, Day -- who ruined his chances by shooting 75 on Saturday -- with a 67 and Rahm with a 68.
Spieth shot back-to-back 65s on Friday, in the rain at Spyglass Hill, and Saturday in clear weather at Pebble -- three courses are used the first three rounds -- to build his virtually unbeatable lead. He was not going to throw shots away.
"Winning before Augusta is always a goal," said Spieth, alluding to the Masters, in early April. "Getting into position to win and then being able to close it is a big confidence boost. In the two years we have won going into Augusta, and I feel like it helped me there."
What helps him everywhere is his great putting. When he isn't making birdies, he is saving pars, although in a situation Sunday's, with others far behind, it was a case of not trying to hole everything.
In addition to the nine wins, he has 10 second-place finishes and 44 top-10s overall.
"Very proud," Spieth said, "but always trying to get better.
"Even though I finished third, third, ninth (his previous three tournaments), I didn't have a chance to win them. This time, to be tied for the lead through two rounds and go out and shoot the round we did Saturday (65) while feeling the Saturday, moving-day pressure of extending a lead is really special.
"I've had four great starts in the year, and I'm going down to Riviera (for the Genesis Open near Los Angeles) next week, and I'm certainly going to try not to let up. The more times you do this, the more natural it feels."
There is a word that fits Spieth to a golf tee: natural.
NOTES: Beautiful weather Sunday -- after rain and fog earlier in the tournament -- led to those TV shots of people walking on the sand at neighboring Carmel beach and movie star and producer Clint Eastwood to make an appearance. That brought TV commentator Jim Nantz to say, "You and (the) sun come out the same time?" Responded the 86-year-old Eastwood, "Tough to come out when it's raining." ... This is a "home game" for Nantz, who moved to Pebble Beach two years ago. ... Former AL MVP Josh Donaldson, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, NHL legend Wayne Gretzky (whose daughter is engaged to Dustin Johnson), San Francisco Giants exec Larry Baer and comedian Bill Murray were among the celebrities who made the cut and played Sunday. Carson Daly teamed with Ken Duke to earn a two-shot win over Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Kevin Streelman.