On a Chambers Bay track primed with so many pitfalls that even a guy with no pulse could get steamed, the emotional and demonstrative Spieth has (mostly) managed his temper as well as his game to put himself in a position to win a second consecutive major at age 21.
Trying to back up his win in April at Augusta National, Spieth used the smooth greens and benign conditions Friday morning to score a three-under-par 67. Hours later, in the fading sunlight, Patrick Reed came up an inch short on his par putt at the last hole to shoot 69 and stand in a tie for the lead with Spieth at five under.
Dustin Johnson, who at one point on the front nine was tied with Reed at seven under, bogeyed three of his last five holes, including the final two, to shoot 71 and drop into a tie at four under with South African Branden Grace, who shot 67 in the morning.
The morning side of the draw was again advantageous in the field, with the lowest scores coming from there.
Daniel Summerhays (three under) also matched Spieth's 67. Long-hitting PGA Tour rookie Tony Finau (three under) fired a 68. The lowest score of the day was the 66 of J.B. Holmes, who moved to two under. That matched the 66 of Louis Oosthuizen, who recovered from an opening 77 while playing with the struggling Tiger Woods and Rickie Fowler to make the cut.
Top-ranked Rory McIlroy could only match his opening 72 and made the cut at four over. Defending champion Martin Kaymer, who shot 72-74, was among those who will be watching over the weekend.
The best example of how Spieth is managing himself came at the end of his back nine. Spieth made a sloppy bogey at the seventh and couldn't birdie the par-five eighth. He was visibly hot when he reached the tee of the stunning, downhill, par-three ninth.
Only a couple of years ago his cheeks might have been the color of a branding iron. Now, Spieth refocused and hit a spectacular five-iron iron shot to six feet and converted for birdie. He had to wait a long time to even attempt the putt because playing partner Jason Day had collapsed while walking to the green.
"It's definitely something I've improved on," Spieth said. "I don't know if it's my trademark, but it's something that maybe a few years ago may have gotten to me a little bit more leading up to that tee shot [at No. 9].
"But my patience and realization that this golf course is going to test your nerve and it's how you rebound from it … certainly kicked in there."
Spieth made six birdies on the day and was four under for his round when he reached his ninth hole, the 18th, which is being alternated as a par-five and par-four for the week. On Friday, it was a 514-yard par-four. Spieth found a bunker off the tee, barely escaped, hit into a greenside bunker and ended up with a double bogey.
"This is the dumbest hole I've ever seen in my life!" Spieth could be overheard yapping to his caddie, Michael Greller.
Of course, that's why so many golf fans have become enamored of the young Texan. He shows emotion and a fierce competitive drive.
The same has been said of Reed, though his attitude has been perceived as cockiness by some. The 24-year-old has more than backed up his confidence, though, with four PGA Tour wins in the last two-plus seasons.
Reed also came into Chambers Bay with something of competitive edge. He competed in the 2010 U.S. Amateur here, where he shot a 68 during stroke play.
His Chambers Bay match-play experience that year reached urban legend proportions when he and opponent Scott Langley took so many hacks on the first hole that, somewhere around eight strokes each, they had to ask the rules official the score. Langley was awarded the hole and eventually won, 1-up.
On Friday, Reed had a tumultuous round, and in one stretch from the seventh through 13 holes he went bogey-birdie-bogey-bogey-birdie-eagle-bogey, rolling in a long putt for a two on the 284-yard 12th hole.
Reed wasn't only tied with Spieth, he agreed with him about the 18th, calling the pin position a "Mickey Mouse location" after making a bogey.