Written by Brad Townsend
Jesuit's Jordan Spieth, 16, makes the grade as Nelson contender
IRVING - Defying age and logic, Jordan Spieth climbed the leaderboard in blustery Saturday conditions while facing only one quandary.
No, it wasn't the next-to-impossible par he made on the 18th hole after spraying his drive into the No. 1 fairway. It wasn't the 26-foot bunker shot he faced after short-siding himself on the opening hole. Heck, he rolled that one in for birdie.
The only thing that vexed the 16-year-old Spieth as he rose to a seventh-place tie entering today's final round of the HP Byron Nelson Championship was how to address his Saturday playing partner, 50-year-old Tom Pernice.
"He called me 'Mr. Pernice' once," Pernice said. "I told him 'Tom's fine.' "
Apparently, Spieth didn't hear that part. Perhaps the Jesuit junior was too focused on his 3-under-par 67 and the gallery roars that followed his six birdies and multiple par saves. Spieth recalled Pernice mentioning on the first hole that he has daughters aged 15 and 16.
"I don't call my friends' parents by their first name, so I was kind of going back and forth," Spieth said. "I was just like, 'Good shot,' and wouldn't say anything after that.
"So, yeah, it was like playing a round with your dad - a little more talented golfer than my dad."
Go figure. After being paired with the field's oldest player Saturday, Spieth today will tee off with another player three times his age - Corey Pavin, the second-oldest player.
The most outlandish part is that Spieth is going off in the fifth-to-last pairing, six shots behind the leader, 22-year-old Jason Day. Spieth has an unlikely, but not impossible, chance to become the first amateur to win a PGA Tour event since 20-year-old Phil Mickelson won the 1991 Northern Telecom Open.
"I guess I'm going against everyone's odds," Spieth said. "No one had really expected me to make the cut, except for a few people. But you know what? I came out here to win a tournament, and I've got an outside chance."
A kid can dream, can't he? He was tied for 17th after one round and 22nd after two. Who would dare bet on him faltering now?
Much of Saturday's estimated crowd of 78,000 was swept up in Spieth-mania. So are tournament officials. They announced that in Spieth's honor, today will be "Swinging 16 Sunday." All students 16 and under will be admitted free with a student I.D. Previously, kids 13 and under got in free.
"I think it's the greatest thing," said Pernice, whose 66 on Saturday pulled him into a tie for fourth. "The only sad thing is I wish Byron Nelson was alive to see it.
"It proves to me and to the people here at the Salesmanship Club and HP that you don't always need the biggest and best names to have an exciting and great week."
There's an electric wonder in the air perhaps not felt at the TPC Four Seasons since a guy named Tiger Woods won the 1997 Nelson. Of course, Woods was a ripe old 21 then, coming off his first Masters victory.
Woods was the last high schooler to play in the tournament, missing the cut in 1993.
"Well, hopefully we'll change that," Spieth said when asked before the tournament if he could improve on that legacy.
When Spieth rolled in a 38-foot birdie putt on No. 12 Saturday, he pulled within two shots of the lead. After making the bunker shot on No. 1, he had chest-bumped his caddie, Kyle Baginski. This time, Spieth threw what he called "a big ol' fist pump.
"Which I shouldn't be doing," he said, "because I don't know how to."
Spieth and his legion of followers got really excited after he birdied No. 16, climbing to 7-under for the tournament and into a sixth-place tie.
But he blew his tee shot over the green at the par-3 17th and failed to save par. It looked like he would bogey 18, too, after his errant tee shot. But he hit his approach into a greenside bunker and made a 5-foot par putt.
For the second straight day, he climbed the tower behind No. 18 to do a live national TV interview. He said he watched one of his interviews Friday, but when he walked through the locker room Saturday and saw a big picture of himself in the newspaper...
"I was like, 'Oh, man,' and I kept on walkin'," he said.
"I just want to stay in the moment right now. Obviously, I'm playing in a golf tournament. I don't want to get caught up in the story of the 16-year-old."
So far, merely living the story has served the kid - and the Nelson - amazingly well.
Jordan Spieth is already scheduled to play in one more PGA Tour event this season, the St. Jude Classic in Memphis on June 10-13. But a win today would qualify him for several more. A look at the events into which he would gain entry:
Tournament Dates Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial May 27-30 Memorial Tournament June 3-6 AT&T National July 1-4 WGC Bridgestone Invitational Aug. 5-8
Tournament Dates SBS Championship Jan. 6-9 Arnold Palmer Invitational TBD The Masters April 7-10 The Players Championship TBD