Jordan Spieth gets game under control with a 68 but is still five over and out of Northern Trust Open

The two golfers bumped into each other in the clubhouse after signing their scorecards. Dustin Johnson wanted to know how things had gone for Jordan Spieth.

"Better than yesterday," Spieth said.

To which Johnson shot back: "That wasn't that hard."

It was true — Spieth's second round at the Northern Trust Open probably couldn't have been worse than his first, when he stumbled through an uncharacteristic eight bogeys and a double-bogey to finish at eight over par.

On Friday, the top-ranked player in the world rebounded to shoot a three-under 68, but at five over for the tournament he will still miss the cut.

"It's already done," Spieth said after walking off the course. "Nothing you can do about it."

This was unfamiliar territory for golf's brightest star, a 22-year-old who already has two majors and a Tour Championship on his resume. Rarely do the wheels fall off.

The problem was easy to diagnose.

Spieth prides himself on a reliable short game; even when he misses the green, he usually gives himself a chance to get up and down. That didn't happen Thursday. The ball spun off his club face at unpredictable angles. Nothing bounced right.

Trying his best to remain optimistic Friday, he did not check out of his hotel, still thinking about playing through the weekend. Sixteen strokes off the lead, he planned to go for broke.

"You can fire at pins," he said. "It's more stress-free."

The second round began with a glimmer of hope in the form of a birdie on No. 10. But then a wedge shot spun off the green at No. 11. And an approach plugged into a bunker at No. 12.

Even a flurry of three consecutive birdies soon gave way to more trouble on his back nine as Spieth's caddie offered some advice.

"Don't make this a bigger deal than it is," Spieth recalled Michael Greller telling him. "Look at your missed cuts last year and what happened right after."

A disappointing performance at the 2015 Players Championship turned into a tie for second at the Crown Plaza Invitational. In the FedEx Cup playoffs, missed cuts at The Barclays and the Deutsche Bank Championship preceded that big payday at the Tour Championship.

So Spieth could remain philosophical about what happened at Riviera this week.

Asked about his busy schedule — including travel overseas — he refused to make any excuses. Nor did he see anything fundamentally awry with his swing, characterizing Thursday's meltdown as the sort of thing that happens every year or so.

"You hope it's on a pro-am day or a practice-round day," he said. "The timing is going to throw it into the mix in a tournament round every once in a while."

As for what comes next, Spieth plans to give his body some rest, spend a few days away from golf, then hit the practice range harder than ever.

The Masters, which Spieth is defending champion, is less than two months away, which doesn't leave much time for ruminating.

"The more upset you get, the more drastic you make everything seem," he said. "Maybe it's not that bad."

Follow David Wharton on Twitter: @LATimesWharton

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on February 20, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Spieth is under but still over, out - The world No. 1 settles down to shoot 68 but misses cut, finishing five strokes above par." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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