Why the Masters is Jordan Spieth's best chance to turn it around

Spieth no stranger to the struggles on the 12th at Augusta (4:01)

Jordan Spieth and his caddy, Michael Greller, recount his quadruple-bogey at the notoriously difficult 12th-hole at the 2016 Masters. (4:01)

Augusta National is a pristine palace, as beautiful as it is challenging, and polarizing enough to make champions or pariahs of the game's greatest golfers.

For Jordan Spieth, it's a venue that has served as the backdrop for his richest successes and most haunting collapses. Now, it can be the place where Spieth rebuilds the foundation of his game and snaps out of the worst stretch of his career.

After the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play two weeks ago, Spieth's 48.2 percent driving accuracy ranked 213th out of 215 qualified players. His strokes gained tee-to-green (-.722) ranked 188th. He ranked in the top 10 in that metric in 2014-15. The 25-year-old also ranks 167th in strokes gained total (-.584) after previously ranking in the top five every season from 2014 to '17.

At age 21, Spieth dominated the Masters with a wire-to-wire victory in 2015 that launched his career, but a brutal quadruple-bogey on the par-3 12th hole the next year sank his chance at repeating. Then there's the 2018 final round, when a cluster of branches along the 18th fairway snared Spieth's tee shot and muted a 9-stroke comeback that would have instantly gone down as one of the greatest in Augusta history.

Instead, he finished third, the highest of only five top-10 finishes for Spieth in 2017-18 after combining for 28 in the three seasons prior. In nine tournaments this season, he hasn't recorded a top-10 finish and has missed the cut three times. He hasn't been victorious on the PGA Tour since winning The Open on July 23, 2017.

Those struggles have dimmed the glow of a meteoric rise that early in his career had Spieth in the same conversation as two of the biggest names in golf: Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus.

Spieth, Woods and Nicklaus are three of only four golfers (Seve Ballesteros is the other) to have won their first Masters before age 24. Spieth, who won his Masters in 2015, became the fourth player all time with a pair of major wins before age 22 when he won the U.S. Open later that year.

"We look at all these young guys and compare them to Tiger, and what Tiger and Jack did is so ridiculously abnormal," ESPN golf analyst Andy North said. "Sometimes as a player you get caught up in this too ... and your confidence is shot. Sometimes it takes months and years to get it back."

This could be that time for Spieth, who enters the Masters this week after top-30 finishes the past two weeks. After missing the cut at the Players Championship, he battled Billy Horschel in the WGC match-play event in Austin, Texas, and overcame a 2-down deficit the final three holes to tie the round. His comeback included birdies on the final two holes.

"I've unfortunately had these waves of one thing being off that prevents me from consistent solid golf, but the other thing is really good," Spieth said before his first match in Austin. "So good news is I feel like my putting is here to stay and the swing is working the right direction."

While Spieth has struggled in several areas of his game, his dip in putting was one of the more alarming. Before the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Spieth ranked 116th in strokes gained putting (-.15); he ranked second in 2015-16. He turned that into a positive .232 and climbed the rank to 70th after steady performances at the WGC-Dell and Valero Texas Open. Spieth's 1.615 putts per green in regulation ranked 10th at the Valero Texas Open, and he ranked 16th in putting from inside 10 feet. A confident stroke should serve Spieth well before arriving at Augusta, where the greens can make or break a round.

"He's always been such an amazing lag putter," North said. "He's great from 30, 40, 50 feet, and if on those greens you can be really good from those distances, it really changes how you attack the golf course."

Spieth owns the best scoring averages of any player to make at least five Masters appearances the past 30 years on the par-3 sixth hole (2.75) and par-5 eighth (4.4). His average finish the past five years at the Masters (3.8) is 14 spots higher than at all other tour events (18.4).

"There's been a lot of good players that really don't have great success [at the Masters]," North said. "Then there are other players who drive down Magnolia Lane and it's like the light goes on. [Spieth has] played great there so many times, he has so many good memories there. Obviously had a couple of bad ones, the 12th hole, but he's got so many good feelings there."

Few players can hit some of the memorable shots that Spieth has archived at the Masters. His ability to finesse his way around the course makes Augusta a likely place for Spieth to turn his season around. If he can't do it there, it's worth questioning where, exactly, he'll be able to.

"I'll always have demons out here," Spieth said after Day 1 of the 2018 Masters. "But I'll always have a tremendous amount of confidence out here."

Credit: Information from ESPN's Stats & Information Group was used in this report. Graphics designed by Linda Root Pouder.