SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — Jordan Spieth spent a portion of his Friday morning holed up in a tent near the 10th tee at Baltusrol Golf Club during a 45-minute rain delay with Bubba Watson and Sergio Garcia and the players’ caddies.
His day at the 98th PGA Championship nearly ended in a rules snafu.
Spieth broke well when the skies finally cleared as he birdied the first two holes starting at the 10th. He offset a bogey on the 12th with birdies on the 13th, 17th and 18th. Pars filled his scorecard until he reached the seventh tee box.
That’s when things got interesting — and complicated.
Spieth’s tee shot ended up in a puddle on a cart path. For nearly 10 minutes — and with no less than four drops to find relief — Spieth spoke with a rules official concerning all his options. He finally was given the go ahead after his last drop settled three feet from the original resting place of the tee shot.
The world No. 3 altered his stance to make sure he wasn’t standing in casual water — because you have to take complete relief when taking a free drop from casual water — and then hit the ball over the green and made bogey.
But it appeared Spieth’s left foot was in casual water when he hit the shot, which would have resulted in a two-shot penalty. But after the round, Spieth said his toe was hovering over the water but not touching the water.
It wouldn’t have mattered even if his foot was in the water. In explaining the decision, the PGA of America said in a statement: “In this case, Jordan was entitled to either play the ball as it lay, even if his stance was still in the casual water or, he could have elected to take relief again from the casual water under this different type of stroke that he then elected to play.”
Thus, while he was peppered with question from the media, there was no danger of being assessed a penalty by the rules committee following the round.
“It was as complicated as I've ever really had it. Took about as much time as I've ever taken on a free drop,” Spieth said. “ … I would have never hit if I was not told it was OK by a rules official. He told me it was fine. Really don't know why we were talking about to be honest. It was a casual water relief drop that took a little extra time. I guess obviously people are talking to you thinking it should be a problem, but it was no problem.”
Spieth didn’t think twice about the situation after he hit the shot.
“I don't think there's any problem with it. If there happens to be then that's not on me. I literally asked every question I could ask and I got every answer I could be to be content,” Spieth said. “That's first and foremost what you are trying to do is obviously abide by the rules. If I had to go over any more, if he told me I did then I would have. He said it was just fine, so it was just fine.”
As for his round – he said it was a tale of two nines – Spieth said his ball-striking is plenty fine but his putting stroke still needs attention. Spieth shot a 3-under-par 67 to move on to the first page of the leaderboard.
“On the greens they were a wicked two feet faster on the Stimpmeter at least, even after all that rain. They were so smooth, they were pure and they were really nice to putt on. But, man, I hit almost every midrange putt I had a good two- to four-feet past the hole,” Spieth said. “Luckily I hit quite a few in there close enough to be able to knock in relatively straight putts for birdie on the front nine. It was an adjustment on speed control on the greens for sure.
“I'm hitting the ball fantastic. I just can't get a putt to go in outside 10 feet. And from 10 to 20 feet, the amount of opportunities I've had that aren't that difficult, up to my putting standards I would be 5, 6, 7 strokes better right now. It feels like it's a bit of a struggle adapting line and speed control on the greens. … I just need to find a nice rhythm with my putting stroke. That's what's next.”