Jordan Spieth’ slump’ says as much about competitors’ strength as his own woes | Ewan Murray

Spieths fall to No5 in the world after an all-conquering 2015 reflects a year of conflict but at 23 he has plenty of time to return to the top

Golfers tend to look upon world rankings as a consequence of success rather than a key incentive. Still, some figures leap out; Luke Donald a lowly 77 th, Hideki Matsuyama at a career high of No6 and, suddenly, Jordan Spieth shuffled down to No5.

How did this happen to Spieth? Merely 12 months ago he had claimed two of the years four majors and taken possession of the FedEx Cup. Even Jason Days US PGA Championship victory was insufficient to switching Spieth v McIlroy as the rivalry of choice. Perhaps commentators were a little too anxious to make the sense of dual detachment at the top. Maybe they just got the names wrong.

Few could have predicted what happened next aside, perhaps, from Days continuation of his stunning sort up to this years Masters. Spieth himself could not have legislated for Dustin Johnson ultimately coming of age with a US Open triumph and Henrik Stensons imperious marching to the Open Championship. McIlroy did not take delivery of a 2016 major but is still ranked above Spieth once more, at No2. Day-McIlroy-Johnson-Stenson-Spieth is the order of the leading ranking quintet.

Spieth would rightly balk at the suggestion he is yesterdays man. His year was affected in no small portion by a tiring if lucrative tour of the continents last wintertime, for which his management company need to take a share of blamed. It is not as if Spieth will not have 20 years in which to rack up appearance fees. Interestingly, he was not in the fields for the WGC-HSBC event in China last week which, while understandable on the grounds of past experiences, was a dishonor for what is a blossoming tournament.

Even when he is tearing up record books, onlookers tend to forget his relative youth; Spieth is still only 23. Had he continued at the rate of winning two majors per season, he would have defined himself apart as a golfing phenomenon even beyond the scale of Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods. Even in this, a relatively lean year, Spieth still returned two PGA Tour titles and vied on other occasions.

Nonetheless, it is difficult to argue that fifth in the world is representative of Spieths talent. It is also tricky to divide this entire situation from a Sunday afternoon in Georgia, where Spieths hopes of defending the Masters were ended in such a calamitous manner. Spieth will not admit it, of course, but inevitable psychological scarring inflicted by what transpired around Amen Corner will not be removed until he is a major champion once more. Had he won another Green Jacket, who knows what farther glories would have resulted. Instead, Augusta remains a wounding point of reference.

Spieth insists it was a technological flaw on the 12 th hole of that Masters Sunday. This is intriguing, given the widely-held suspicion that Spieths swaying is not robust enough to ensure winning longevity. The debate may well be overstated; Nicklaus, like Spieth, had plenty of moving portions when club met golf ball. The notion that Spieths success has been entirely due to putting can definitely be contradicted by the fact his statistics for that area of play were actually better in 2016 than 2015.

The wider point relates to Spieths handling of increased pressure , not chiefly from expectant fans but from himself. He is not the first to discover epic years cannot readily be backed up by more of the same. It stimulates this wintertime a key one for him, as he appears to even discover middle ground between the glory of 2015 and the relative struggles of 2016. At the Ryder Cup, despite being part of a successful USA team, Spieth was outshone by Patrick Reed and cut a rather withdrawn figure. He looked a player in need of fresh impetus and direction.

Spieth will appear at this months Australian Open, the scene in 2014 of one of his finest ever rounds. The 63 to secure a six-shot win, in fact, has not been routinely bettered anywhere in golf. It is inevitable Spieth will shoot himself back into prominence before too long; for now, spectators should appreciate the depth of talent in this sport which means one so brilliant, and lately dominant, is merely ranked at No5. Spieth may well use it all as motivation.

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