LOS ANGELES — Jordan Spieth is back.
He’s not winning golf tournaments again. Not yet, at least. But he appears to have emerged from the wilderness in which he has been lost, in search of his game, for the better part of the past four winless years.
For the third consecutive tournament, Spieth has himself in position to win. His second successive 68 in Friday’s second round of the Genesis Invitational has him at 6-under par, six shots back of Sam Burns’ lead entering the weekend at Riviera Country Club.
In recent weeks, hope has emerged from Spieth’s game.
Last week, he took a two-shot lead into the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. In his previous start, he had a share of the 54-hole lead at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Spieth didn’t win either of those tournaments. He finished tied for third after shooting a final-round 70 at Pebble and shot a final-round 72 in Arizona to finish in a tie for fourth.
There are, of course, two ways to look at those results: Spieth’s failure to close the deal on those final-round leads or the fact that he was playing well enough to put himself in position to win those tournaments when he hadn’t posted a top-10 result in nearly a year before the Waste Management.
Barring a crazy-low score posted in Saturday’s third round, Spieth won’t have his third consecutive 54-hole lead Sunday. But maybe the formula for breaking his winless streak is to not be the pursued, but the pursuer in the final round.
“You feel like you can be a little freer when it’s not all on you, but the times I’ve won on the PGA Tour have mostly come from in front,’’ Spieth said. “I promise you I’m trying to get to the lead by the end of the 54 holes.’’
Spieth conceded that he’s “got some scar tissue’’ to contend with from the past few years.
“I really like the progress being made,’’ he said. “I’m not looking at what I’m doing right now as final as far as the last couple weeks. There’s a next level that I’m searching for.’’
That next level must be defined by a win. Spieth hasn’t won since the 2017 British Open at Royal Liverpool.
The scrutiny following Spieth has intensified as he has slumped, with many armchair experts suggesting he ditch his swing coach Cameron McCormick, who has worked with him since he was a kid, to get a new set of eyes on his swing.
“It’s kind of the first time in my life where I’ve had a significant dip in success,’’ Spieth said. “It had kind of been a nice uptick every single year. So just kind of learning how to deal with that and having to do it in such a public way was very difficult, can sometimes present even more challenges.
“But the idea is to get to the bottom of it, turn it around, make progress each day and recognize that’s the past and I can use it as having some scar tissue and use it to my advantage going forward,’’ he went on. “Ultimately, I’m just in the same search that everybody else is that steps on the first tee, which is feeling really in control of the golf ball and shooting low scores.
“Everybody’s search for that is a different path and I’m living mine right now.’’
The road back in golf is never guaranteed. It’s littered with players who’ve experienced success and never returned.
Success for Spieth came at warp speed.
It felt like he went from chilling as a college player at Texas to winning the 2013 the John Deere Classic in his first full PGA Tour season to winning two major championships before the age of 22 in the time it takes to ring up an $80 bill on a night out at Topgolf.
By the end of 2015, Spieth was a 21-year-old with six PGA Tour wins, including a Masters, U.S. Open and a Tour Championship already on his résumé.
When he won that 2017 British Open, it left Spieth a mere PGA Championship victory shy of a rare career Grand Slam.
His struggle to return to the form that earned him the No. 1 ranking for 26 weeks in 2015 has been difficult to watch, because we root for Spieth, who always says the right things, treats people with respect and comes from a humble family.
In recent weeks, there have been flickers of light coming from Spieth’s game. That flame remains lit as he plays into the weekend at Riviera.
Is he back?
He’s on his way.
But no matter what he says about the process being more important than the results, winning again is the only way we can acknowledge that he’s truly back.