FORT WORTH, Texas — Jordan Spieth doesn’t need vindication.
He knows he’s getting closer to his old form on the golf course and isn’t overly concerned with outside critics or voices wondering what’s wrong with the one-time darling of the sport.
“It doesn’t really bother me at this point,” Spieth said of being asked constantly about his so-called slump.
“I know what I needed to work on and I knew it was going to take a bit of time, so it’s nice personally to see the results off of how I know I’ve been progressing.”
Thursday proved to be another step in the right direction for Spieth. He opened the Charles Schwab Challenge with a 5-under 65, just one stroke behind leader Tony Finau (6-under 64).
Spieth and Finau are two solid names at the top, but the five players ranked in the Top 10 competing this week all failed to break par in the first round. Reigning champion Justin Rose, the No. 3 player in the world, shot a 4-over 74. Reigning British Open champion Francesco Molinari, ranked No. 7, shot a 1-over 71.
Bryson DeChambeau (No. 8) had a 2-over 72, Rickie Fowler (No. 10) had a 4-over 74 and Xander Schauffele (No. 9) shot 6-over 76.
Rose, Molinari and Schauffele were part of the afternoon wave where conditions were a little tougher with winds picking up and greens getting firmer throughout the day. But that’s the nature of the sport.
Canadian Roger Sloan matched Spieth’s 65, and then there is a nine-way tie for fourth at 3-under from a group that includes TCU alum J.J. Henry and major champions Jason Dufner and Jimmy Walker. Colleyville resident Ryan Palmer posted the only bogey-free round of the day and is part of a nine-way tie for 13th at 2-under.
All eyes, though, are on Spieth. This is a guy who won his first PGA Tour event in 2013 at the John Deere Classic, just his 24th start. He went on to have a breakout season in 2015, winning five tournaments (including two majors).
But Spieth has struggled since winning his third career major, the 2017 British Open. This is his 44th PGA Tour start since that British Open victory and he didn’t have a Top 20 finish this season until finishing T3 in last week’s PGA Championship.
He’s looking to build on that strong finish last week at a course this week that has treated him well. Spieth won this tournament in 2016, and has made the cut in all six of his starts.
“The course fits me well,” Spieth said. “It seems to have fit me well whether I’ve had form coming in or not. I know which spots to play to. I don’t try and do too much. I’ve putted the greens well historically, so it is nice. I love coming back here.”
It showed on Thursday as Spieth made eight birdies on the day, his 26th round with eight or more birdies since 2013 (the most by any player on the PGA Tour in that span).
Spieth, who started his day off No. 10, made his first birdie by chipping in from 73 feet, 5 inches on No. 13.
Two holes later on No. 15, Spieth rolled in a 9-footer for birdie and followed that by sticking it to within 5-feet on the par-3 16th for birdie. He extended the birdie streak to three consecutive holes by draining a 30-footer on No. 17.
“I’ve been feeling really good with the flat stick,” said Spieth, who led the field with a 5.454 strokes gained in putting in Round 1.
Spieth ran into trouble on No. 18, though. He hooked his approach shot into the water, leading to a double-bogey.
“Just tried to do too much,” Spieth said. “I tried to force a low hook instead of hitting a stock shot to 15 feet.”
Spieth responded with birdies on Nos. 1-2 and another on No. 4 by draining a 46-footer. Spieth stumbled on the par-3 eighth, hitting his tee shot right and bogeying. But he answered once again by closing with a birdie on No. 9, exciting the gallery following him.
All in all, Spieth had eight birdies, a bogey and a double-bogey en route to a 5-under 65. That matches the second-best opening round for Spieth at Colonial, as he fired a 6-under 64 in 2015 (he opened with a 65 in 2013).
But Spieth isn’t getting too far ahead of himself.
“I’ve still got to keep my head down and try and do this another three times,” Spieth said.
Another local player off to a strong start is Henry, the TCU product. Henry posted a 3-under 67 and is among the contingent tied for fourth. This is the best round by Henry at Colonial since a 67 in the third round of the 2013 tournament, and his best opening round since a 67 to start the 2010 tournament.
But everyone is chasing Finau going into Day 2. He put together a solid round with seven birdies and one bogey, draining a 20-footer off the fringe to save par on No. 16. He also made lengthy putts on for consecutive birdies on No. 12 (24-footer) and No. 13 (27-footer).
“It’s nice when you’re making putts,” Finau said. “The game seems to come to you.”