Spieth battles back to make cut

World No. 1 Jordan Spieth (right) discussing a hole with his caddie Michael Greller at the Valspar Championship on Friday. The American was relieved to make the cut after a poor start, but remains seven strokes behind the leaders.
World No. 1 Jordan Spieth (right) discussing a hole with his caddie Michael Greller at the Valspar Championship on Friday. The American was relieved to make the cut after a poor start, but remains seven strokes behind the leaders.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PALM HARBOUR (United States) • Jordan Spieth holed out three times from off the green to banish any thoughts of missing the cut in the second round at golf's Valspar Championship on Friday.

The defending champion, in danger of an early exit after an opening 76, bounced back with a three-under 68 on the Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbour, Florida.

The American ended the day joint 43rd, seven strokes behind halfway leaders Steve Stricker (66) and Will MacKenzie (67).

World No. 1 Spieth made a poor start to his second round, running up a bogey six at the opening hole after yanking his drive into an unplayable lie.

But it was nearly all positive after that as he compiled five birdies to go with just one more bogey, twice chipping in and once using his putter to hole out from the fringe.

"Today was all about the cut," a relieved Spieth said. "I actually did pretty well to make six (at the first hole). I thought it was really strong what we did after that. For the first 20 holes to be at six over and we finished at two over, (there are) only positives going forward."

He also expressed disappointment at the PGA Tour for posting a quote, since deleted, on its Twitter feed after the first round.

The quote - "what good is kicking the door other than hurting my foot (and having) to withdraw" - sounded innocuous, but Spieth thought that in isolation it made it seem as though he was unfazed whether he played over the weekend.

"I was a little upset," he said. "It made it seem like I was okay with getting hurt and withdrawing. I was frustrated with that."

Four-time Major winner and world No. 2 Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland tweeted support for Spieth, noting that, while the American might not be Tiger Woods, he is far from woeful.

"No, he's not TW, he's not slumping and he's not done. He's a double Major winning 22 year old. He'll be just fine!!" McIlroy tweeted.

Sitting atop the leader board, meanwhile, were part-time player Stricker and MacKenzie who set the halfway pace at 137, one stroke ahead of fellow American Daniel Berger and Canadian Graham DeLaet.

Stricker, 49, who spends more time deer hunting than playing golf these days, jump-started his round when he bagged an eagle from 150 yards at the par-four 10th.

"I just hit a good solid seven-iron and it turned right in there," said the 12-time PGA Tour winner.

"You don't expect shots like that to go in but I'll definitely take it and it propelled me to have a good backside."

Co-leader MacKenzie credited his lofty position to improved putting.

"Thus far my season's been totally awful but I'm over it," he said.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 13, 2016, with the headline 'Spieth battles back to make cut'. Print Edition | Subscribe