By TIM DAHLBERG – AP sportswriter
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Jordan Spieth is a little frustrated that he only has a green jacket. Justin Thomas is just as frustrated that he’s only won one major championship — and it didn’t come with a green jacket.
If their motivations are similar at this week’s Masters, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The two close friends have been pursuing the same golfing dreams since they tried to hit junior golf as teenagers.
Spieth currently holds the bragging rights. But it was Thomas who flew in a private jet with Tiger Woods last week to play a practice round at Augusta National to ensure all the boxes were ticked in his quest for a green jacket of his own.
And it was Thomas teeing off for nine holes with Woods and Fred Couples on Monday that got the fans screaming like it was Sunday afternoon with everything on the line.
“It was amazing. I guess I honestly didn’t think about it that much until I saw it,” Thomas said. “I had some buddies who sent me some pictures last night and that’s probably more people than I’ve ever watched a round at Augusta National and they weren’t there to watch me.”
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That could change should Thomas overcome the putting problems that have plagued him in six previous Masters appearances, his best being fourth in the only November tournament in Masters history. He placed 10th in the field in putts per round that year, the only time he has finished in the top 10 in that category on the difficult and very fast greens.
He’s also been up close and personal on the court with Woods, who knows every inch and how to play every shot he might come across. He is the closest friend on tour with Woods, who treats Thomas like a little brother.
“I’m not necessarily asking him for many details about this,” Thomas said. “If I ask him something at home, I’m just – it’s the same as asking Jon Rahm a question or asking Jordan a question. I feel like Tiger was a good person for me to do that with. But yeah, I think I’m very lucky in that regard.”
Thomas wasn’t specific, but the questions to Spieth were probably more about how to dress than the size of a green jacket. Thomas has always admired Spieth’s putting, which always seems to improve once he gets to the Masters.
“He has the best putter speed I’ve ever seen,” Thomas said. “You look at all of his putts, especially all of his midrange putts, every single one of them is going in at exactly the same speed. They don’t hit the back of the hole. You will likely miss between 6 and 12 inches off the hole. I don’t think people realize how hard it is and how good it is to do it consistently every time.”
That putting paid off in 2015, when Spieth needed just 27 putts per round to win the Masters, a year after finishing second in his Masters debut. He followed it up the next year with another second-place finish, which would have been better had he not imploded with balls at Rae’s Creek in 12th place.
He’s finished third or better in five of his eight Masters, a remarkable achievement but one that left him wanting more.
“I’ve had so many close and top finishes that to be honest I’m a little frustrated not to have more than one just because I think I’ve finished in the top three five or six times out of eight starts,” he said called Spieth. “So in that position I would have wished … I would have wanted at least a couple of wins, assuming you’re in that position enough.”
Spieth sees his chances of changing that this week and surprisingly his putter is not the reason. He’s regained his momentum after struggling in recent years and believes he’s hitting – and shaping – the ball better than at any time in his career.
That helped get him into last week’s Valero Texas Open, where all chances of a top finish were gone due to his inability to adapt to the speed of the greens. That shouldn’t be a problem on Augusta National’s greens, which will be as fast as ever by the weekend.
And that’s exactly how Spieth likes them.
“I’m very confident this week, even if the results over the past month or so haven’t been what I was looking for,” Spieth said. “I feel like my game here is a lot better than last year.”
Both Spieth and Thomas see an additional advantage because they have caddies who know the course well and have carried the winner’s bag before. In Spieth’s case, that’s Michael Greller, the only caddie he’s ever had, while this year Thomas lured Jim “Bones” Mackay from the broadcast team to be his caddie.
Mackay was Phil Mickelson’s longtime caddie and won three Masters with him.
“He obviously knows the course amazingly well and I feel like I know the course very well too. It’s just about going out there and doing it at that point,” Thomas said. “Hopefully we can share a bit of the success he’s had here.”
In that case, Thomas should be in the back nine on Sunday.
The only thing that would be better would be if his friend joins him there.
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