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Jordan Spieth puts himself in the mix again after two rounds of Genesis Invitational

Jordan Spieth tees off on No. 17 in the second round of the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club on Feb. 19, 2021.
Jordan Spieth tees off on the par-five 17th hole in the second round of the Genesis Invitational. He had a second straight three-under 68 and is tied for sixth, six shots behind leader Sam Burns.
(Ryan Kang / Associated Press)

Jordan Spieth isn’t quite back. The past two weeks have reminded him of that. But his PGA Tour career has a pulse again, with the latest evidence being the consecutive rounds of 68 at Riviera Country Club that have him near the top of the Genesis Invitational leaderboard.

Spieth, an 11-time tour winner whose last victory came at the 2017 British Open, is routinely in the mix again after a few years of frustration.

His five birdies offset his two bogeys Friday, as Spieth heads into the weekend tied for sixth, six strokes behind leader Sam Burns.

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Two weeks ago, Spieth shared the 54-hole lead at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, and last weekend he had a two-shot lead after three rounds of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Although he didn’t pull away on Sunday of either — he finished tied for fourth, then third — he relocated that relevance that defined him earlier in his career.

After his opening round at Riviera, Spieth talked about the relief of being able to “trust these swings” as he navigates courses where he has built up “scar tissue” from disappointments past.

“I really like the progress that’s being made,” he said. “I’m just trying to get better and better. I’m not looking at what I’m doing right now as final, as far as the last couple of weeks. There’s a next level that I’m searching for.”

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Highlights from the second round of the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club on Friday.

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Three years of frustration have taken a psychological toll on the former world No. 1 with three major championships to his name.

“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 doing it — and having to do it in such a public way was very difficult — can sometimes present even more challenges.

“But at the same time, 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.”

Masters champion Dustin Johnson overcame a slow start Friday — he was one over for the day after the first five holes — with five birdies in the final 13 holes. He is tied for second at seven under with Tyler McCumber, Jason Kokrak and Joaquin Niemann.

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Dustin Johnson hits his tee shot on the par-three 18th in front of cardboard cutout fans on Feb. 19, 2021.
Dustin Johnson hits his tee shot on the par-three 18th in front of cardboard cutout fans at Riviera Country Club. He shot a four-under 67 and is tied for second place.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

“Obviously, the confidence is pretty high right now,” Johnson said. “I feel good about what I’m doing. I’ve got a lot of confidence in everything that I’m doing. I’ve just been playing really consistent and solid golf.”

Befitting these strange times, Riviera feels eerily quiet this week. The only spectators are the clusters of cardboard cutouts lining a few of the tee boxes, fake fans that have been commonplace in other sports during the pandemic but are rare at golf tournaments.

The silhouettes range from first responders in medical scrubs and police uniforms, to Tiger Woods wearing a Masters green jacket, to CBS golf announcer Jim Nantz, to anonymous people holding their dogs, to a picture of the tournament trophy.

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On a day when fast greens and a steady breeze made low scores even more difficult to achieve, at least the firm fairways allowed for some robust drives.

“I thought the course had some teeth today with some pins down the stretch. You definitely had to be on hitting your second shots,” McCumber said. “If you kind of got it lower spin landing in the fairway, it would run forever, which was nice, allow you to get a little closer to some of these holes and have the numbers you wanted.”

Joaquin Niemann gets a look at the cardboard cutout fans while waiting to hit his tee shot on the 14th hole on Feb. 19, 2021.
Joaquin Niemann, who is tied for second place, gets a look at the cardboard cutout fans while waiting to hit his tee shot on the par-three 14th hole Friday.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Burns, seeking his first victory, was unflappable. He followed his opening 64 with a 66, tying the lowest score after 36 holes of the Riviera tournament.

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“I think we just tried to have a good game plan and just kind of stick with it out there all day,” he said after his five-birdie, bogey-free round. “This golf course doesn’t necessarily give you a lot of opportunities at times, so just put it in the right spots. When you get in a tricky spot, just try to get it back in position.”

Willie Mack, who was homeless as he tried to pursue his golf dream, will compete in his second PGA Tour event at the Genesis Invitational, which begins Thursday.

After shooting a 70 in the opening round to fuel hopes he might make the even-par cut in his second tour event, Willie Mack III struggled Friday with a 76 to finish the two rounds at four over. Mack, who lived out of his car for 1½ years nearly a decade ago, got into the event by virtue of the annual Charlie Sifford exemption.


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