PALM HARBOR, FLA. >> Jordan Spieth rolled in a 12-foot birdie putt on his third hole Thursday at the Valspar Championship, just what he needed to settle down after a bogey-bogey start as the defending champion.
"Started 20 minutes too early today," he said.
That was his only birdie of the day. Maybe he started two hours too early.
Spieth never recovered from the opening seven holes in which he had to get up-and-down to save bogey four times and twice was stymied by trees on the par 5s. He finished with 10 pars and a three-putt bogey for a 5-over 76. More than being nine shots out of the lead, he was in danger of missing another cut.
"I got off to a poor start and I was behind the eight ball with gusty winds on a tough golf course," Spieth said. "I've been feeling good about my game. Unfortunately, right now on my off days — typically my history, I'm able to hold that around even par — I'm just shooting too high a number. And I didn't quite squeak out even today."
It wasn't particularly close.
Spieth was 4 over when he made the turn and set a goal for the rest of the day to get back to even par, or at least get back to 2 over. But he only had about four reasonable chances at birdie and didn't convert any of them.
The world's No. 1 player hasn't been getting much out of his game since his eight-shot victory to start the year at Kapalua. He took himself out of the mix at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am with a 74 on a relatively calm day at Pebble Beach. He missed the cut at Riviera after the highest first-round score of his young career (79) and he was never a factor last week at Doral, a course that doesn't suit him.
He is trying to temper his expectations. But this wasn't what he expected.
Spieth had to get up-and-down for bogey from a bunker on his first hole (No. 10) by making a 6-foot putt. His tee shot on the par-5 11th sailed right into the trees, and just his luck, he had the trunk of a large pine 10 feet in front of him. He hooked it out of there into thick rough, went into a bunker and missed a 5-foot par putt.
He guessed wrong on the 25 mph gust at the par-3 13th and went long, then chipped off the green to the front apron.
When he pulled his tee shot on the par-5 14th, he should have known how this day was shaping up. The ball stopped in front of another pine, with a small branch so close to the front of his ball that it was too risky to move it. He tried to carve it low and left of the trees, but it squirted low and traveled only 30 yards into the rough. He punched it out of the trees for his third shot, and then his wedge bounced hard past the pin and into the rough.
It looked like the kind of day that if anything could go wrong, it would. Twice he was posing on a shot, only to double over when it came up short.
"When you don't hit a great shot, you don't deserve a good break," Spieth said. "But I ended up not having much out of the trees, and then I actually drove it into a couple of divots in the fairway. ... It was one of those days, but that doesn't happen often. I don't think that way often. I don't think I fall into that trap normally."
Only 10 players from the morning starters broke par, though Spieth was much closer to the bottom of the leaderboard. And he knew he needed a low score on Friday to avoid another weekend off heading into his final stretch ahead of the Masters.