Jordan Spieth set to defend green jacket at the Masters

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When Jordan Spieth entered the 2015 Masters, he was arguably the hottest player on the PGA Tour.

Prior to his arrival at Augusta National last year, Spieth had tied for second at the Shell Houston Open, finished second at the Valero Texas Open, and won the Valspar Championship.

But this year, things are a bit different for the Spieth, who became the second-youngest to ever win the Masters last year and served Texas barbecue on Tuesday night at the Masters Champions Dinner. Only three players — Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods — have ever repeated as Masters champion.

Spieth arrives at Augusta this year in what many are calling a slump. The former Longhorn began 2016 with an eight-shot victory at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii. But since then, the 22-year-old has failed to notch a win, finished inside the top-10 only once, and has lost the the ranking of No. 1 golfer in the world. But Spieth’s confidence in his game remains unwavered by any preconceived doubts many have posed against him lately.

“I’ve had a fantastic couple days thus far preparing, and [my] game feels great,” Spieth said at his Tuesday press conference. “Going to try and just use last year as momentum. We know we’re capable of playing this place. We have proven it to ourselves the last two years.”

There’s no question Spieth has already proved himself. He’s coming off one of the greatest years in the history of golf, having won five times in 2015 — including the Masters and U.S. Open, finishing top-5 in both the British Open and PGA Championship, and winning the FedEx Cup. But the tremendous successes of 2015 have given way to tremendous expectations for 2016.

Besides a missed cut at the Northern Trust Open in February, Spieth’s worst finish in a tournament in 2016 is a tie for 21st at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He’s finished inside the top-20 in every other event he’s played in, including the win in Hawaii. Not exactly a slump for your average tour pro. 

But Spieth is certainly not the average tour pro, and the added internal pressure of being a two-time major champion is something Spieth says he still has to deal with.

“The only way it affects my golf is if I’m on the course and in a tournament round, and I feel like I’m giving strokes away and, therefore, I make an aggressive play that’s unnecessary,” Spieth said. “I know can beat everybody if I just let them kind of come out.”

For many players, no matter what form their game is in, the aura of the Masters and Augusta National brings out the best in them. The same is true for Spieth, who calls Augusta National his favorite course in the world. 

The familiarity with the course from watching the Masters on TV growing up combined with the invaluable knowledge gained from playing practice rounds with the likes of two-time Masters champion and former Longhorn Ben Crenshaw have helped Spieth gain a deep admiration for the nuances of Augusta National.

“I love courses where you have to use your imagination and a lot of feel, so I just kind of had a unique eye for it I guess, a passion for it, if you want to say,” Spieth said. “A place that you come back to play every single year in a major, this is the only one. You already have a ton of focus on the golf course and really dissecting, giving it your all that week in a major.”

One of the many traditions of the Masters is the green jacket — the coveted blazer awarded to each year’s winner. Each time a player wins the Masters, he is allowed to wear and keep the green jacket for a full year before having to return it to the Champions Locker Room at Augusta National, where it’s kept safe and only brought out again for when the player returns to Augusta.

When Spieth was packing the green jacket for the final time a few weeks ago before heading to the World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play in Austin, a revelation hit the defending champion.

“I was like, wow, this is actually — there’s a possibility that I don’t have this back at my house anymore when I was leaving home,” Spieth said. “It kind of fired me up a little bit. So yeah, just the jacket itself provides a little motivation, which is cool, but at the same time, it’s not easy. It’s not easy to get. I didn’t take it for granted whatsoever. I think that I could have taken advantage of having it in my possession more than I did. But you learn, and next time I’ll do a little bit better.”