JERSEY CITY • In 2015, veteran Brandt Snedeker marvelled at the performances of a group of young golfers, led by Jordan Spieth, saying they were pushing everybody to "get better and better and better".
Four years later, it was the turn of a 26-year-old Spieth to be inspired.
He recorded his best 36-hole start relative to par this season for the first two rounds of the Northern Trust playing with Matthew Wolff, 20, whose aggressive style caught his eye.
The American chased his opening four-under 67 with a 64 on Friday at Liberty National Golf Club to head into the weekend in sole possession of second place.
He was a shot behind Dustin Johnson (67), with Tiger Woods withdrawing from the first of three FedEx Cup play-off events on Friday because of an oblique strain.
Spieth said: "The important thing for me is not to get ahead of myself, to just continue to try and be consistent. Historically, I'm a very consistent player. I still have the firepower, but that consistency is what I'm trying to get back."
The 2015 FedEx Cup champion started the week in 69th place in the play-off standings, one spot ahead of Wolff, who has one tour victory in seven starts since turning professional.
Spieth's last win came at the 2017 British Open. He recorded three top-10 finishes in his first 21 starts this season, including a tie for third at the PGA Championship.
His play has been like the weather in Jersey City this week: If the sun is hot and bright, just wait an hour and a micro-burst will blow in dark clouds, sheets of rain and sheer misery.
He has made 16 stroke-play cuts in 2018-19; in 14 of those tournaments, he equalled or posted his highest score of the week in the third or fourth rounds.
His latest harsh shift in fortunes came at last weekend's Wyndham Championship in North Carolina.
After opening with six-under 64 and 67, he stumbled to a 77, which included three double bogeys. He missed the secondary cut.
The former world No. 1, whose ranking has dropped to 38th, spent the past several months dissecting his swing, trying to fix "the wrong things" and of harbouring "a little doubt in what I was working on".
Sometimes his words are in danger of being drowned out by the gears that seem to be grinding in his head. In that respect, playing alongside Wolff for the first time was especially instructive.
"He swings his own swing, which I can certainly look at and say, maybe I don't have to be perfect," Spieth said. "You know, it doesn't have to be textbook. Just be yourself. I can learn stuff from him."
The top 70 players in the FedEx Cup standings will advance to next week's second round, the BMW Championship in Chicago.
Another weekend wobble could leave Spieth out of that event and out of the FedEx picture.
"I don't like starting where I did this play-offs," Spieth said. "I don't plan on ever starting this far back again."