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Waste Management Open: Jordan Spieth Defying the Model Xander Schauffele Is Trying to Prove

Waste Management Open: Jordan Spieth Defying the Model Xander Schauffele Is Trying to Prove article feature image

Christian Petersen/Getty Images. Pictured: Jordan Spieth

Jordan Spieth hasn’t won a golf tournament in three-and-a-half years.

That sentence alone doesn’t tell the entire story, of course. The last time he won was at the 2017 Open Championship, his third of three majors in a three-year span. He became the world’s second-ranked player that week, one spot below his best career world ranking.

Since then, he not only hasn’t won, he’s barely gotten close.

And yet, as if only to prove that so-called slumps can be busted at any moment, Spieth hit the ball all over the yard, rolled in putts from everywhere and posted one of the unlikeliest rounds of 61 we’ve seen in a very long time.

The end result is that he’s now tied for the Waste Management Phoenix Open lead entering Sunday’s final round – and +275 to finally win again.

Professional golf isn’t supposed to work this way.

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This is a game of building blocks, of momentum. A game where a solid swing and a healthy dose of confidence can lead to a few birdies, where a decent stretch of holes can lead to a good round, where a good round can lead to another, where multiple rounds can lead to a title contention and — finally — a few title contentions can ultimately lead to a victory.

Spieth has clearly skipped a few steps, considering he hasn’t even posted a single top-10 since last June.

The question now is whether he can skip directly past those steps and straight into the winner’s circle once again.

If we’ve learned anything over the years — from Tiger Woods winning a Masters after thinking his career was over to the careers of so many others seemingly rising from the ashes — it’s that anything can happen in this game.

I’ll get into this concept more in the coming days, but anyone declaring chances of 0% for anything in this game — Rickie Fowler winning a major, Tony Finau winning a big event, anything — should heed this latest warning that “ever” in an awfully long time.

Of course, having the ability to win a tournament and, you know, actually winning the tournament pay out a bit differently.

With 18 holes remaining at TPC Scottsdale, we’re all less worried about long-term potential than the short-term.

Even though I’d hardly be shocked if Spieth captured this title, I’m not sure his style of play over the first 54 holes is sustainable for one more round — even though his best golf often seemed more unsustainable than that of anyone else.

In fact, that’s what makes him more fun to watch than anyone this side of Woods when he’s got it going, because threading in birdies while walking a tightrope is more entertaining than massive drives down the middle of the fairway.

The latter, however, is just how Xander Schauffele (-110) has climbed his way into a share of the lead alongside Spieth, three shots clear of the next-closest contender. He leads the field in strokes gained off the tee, is averaging just over 326 yards per drive and is hitting nearly three-quarters of the fairways.

The co-leaders are essentially a study in contrast, at least so far this week, as the seemingly sustainable is attempting to hold off the theoretically unsustainable.

I wouldn’t be on-brand if I wasn’t recommending the elite-level player, hungry for a win after two years of his own without one, whose ball-striking has been terrific this week.

We all love a great feel-good story and the answer is, yes, Spieth can win this tournament on Sunday.

But again, “can” doesn’t cash tickets.

We’re looking for the guy who will win this title and it’s tough to bet against Xander, even at just less than even-money.

I’m always trying to find a bit of a longshot with some win equity entering a final round, but while Spieth might continue to be the best story in this one, Schauffele is the guy playing the best, which should equate to a long-elusive victory.

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