Jordan Spieth's magic is back but he still can't pull off the ultimate trick

The American banked his third top-five finish in four events after an impressive debut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational but a first PGA TOUR victory since 2017 continues to elude him

Jordan Spieth's return to form has been one of the big storylines on the PGA TOUR in the early part of 2021.

And, to many, it's come as a slight but welcome surprise.

The three-time Major winner appeared to be banging his head against a brick wall when January brought a fifth missed cut in eight events. That came as he crashed out at the halfway mark of the Farmers Insurance Open after a second-round 75.

Even though he played all four rounds at November's Masters, a tied 46th was way down on what we'd come to expect from him at Augusta National. His first six starts there produced stunning figures of 2-1-2-11-3-21.

The former World No.1 went into February's Waste Management Phoenix Open at 92nd in the world rankings. A couple more poor weeks and Spieth would no longer be a top 100 player.

But at TPC Scottsdale his fortunes changed. Spieth started out with a pair of 67s and then fired a scintillating third-round 61 to jump into the lead.

Perhaps, unsurprisingly, he took a step back on day four but a 72 was still enough to secure tied fourth and his first top-five finish since May 2019.

Now he has three top fives in his last four events. He followed his big week in Phoenix with a tied third at Pebble Beach and, after a solid tied 15th at Riviera, Spieth continued his rise back up the world rankings at Bay Hill.

He was sensational at times in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. A Jordan Spieth in full flow is one of the great sights in golf and the highlight-reel moments kept on coming in Orlando. However, a final-round 75 meant he came up short again, finishing five back from winner Bryson DeChambeau.

If there is still one piece of the puzzle to solve, it's his ability to come good again on Sundays. In this recent trio of top-four finishes he's failed to break 70 in the final round each time.

In Phoenix and Pebble Beach he was the third-round leader before slipping back while he started Sunday at Bay Hill in fourth and ended in fourth.

The magic is back but it appears for just the first three rounds only. Spieth hasn't shot lower than 67 in a closer since August 2018 and currently ranks 123rd in final-round scoring.

That's a big reason why he still hasn't posted a victory since the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.

Going into this week's PLAYERS Championship, Spieth is up to 52nd in the world rankings: a jump of 40 spots since his missed cut at Torrey Pines.

The bookies are understandably wary. Spieth is 25/1 with Paddy Power to win at TPC Sawgrass this week. Or to put it another way, the man ranked 52nd in the world is rated 10th favourite in the betting.

There is lots to be encouraged about and Spieth, as usual, wasn't short of a word or two when interviewed on Sunday at Bay Hill. First, though, his numbers...

Spieth's stats at Bay Hill

Eagles: 2 (3rd)

Birdies: 13 (35th)

Bogeys: 11 (69th)

Double bogeys: 0 (1st)

Strokes Gained: Off The Tee: -0.275 (50th)

Strokes Gained Approach: 5.480 (5th)

Strokes Gained: Around The Green: 2.330 (17th)

Strokes Gained: Putting: 2.662 (22nd)

Strokes Gained: Tee To Green: 7.535 (7th)

Jordan Spieth with caddie Michael Greller at Bay Hill
Jordan Spieth with caddie Michael Greller at Bay Hill

Analysis: This was Spieth's best Tee To Green performance of the season while he gained over six strokes on Approach for the second time in four starts. His return to form is being built on solid foundations rather than just getting red-hot with the putter.

On his final-round performance at Bay Hill

"I thought I played really well. I thought I played a really solid round of golf. I trusted a lot of tough shots, hit a lot of good ones. Hit my lines on just about every putt and just nothing went in. And then finishing 5, 5, 4, 5, just, that stings. I mean, you got to be, you probably got to shoot even or under par on those last four to have a chance from the position I was in and I gave myself enough opportunities to do so and I didn't do anything wrong.

"I mean I'm very happy with the way that I played the round today, knowing going out it was going to be really challenging, and it just wasn't my day. I mean, I hit right lip, left lip, high lip, low lip. I mean it was - greens got super crusty and it was just, I mean the couple that I made I thought I missed and the ones I thought I made I missed. It was weird."

On failing to birdie the two back-nine par 5s and his performances on Sundays

"Yeah, of course. And 12, I hit into the lip of the bunker, if it carries another yard it's a much easier bunker shot. Still hit a good shot and lipped out. 16 I had wedge in and made par. I mean the ball just, it just doesn't stop rolling on these greens here. And I was left with a number where I had to take some off and if you're not able to kind of throw it really high and spin it with a full shot, you're not going to be able to feed it into any of the holes.

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"I ended up in a really tough spot to have to putt from along a crown. I hit it and I ended up 3-putting for par there obviously at a crucial moment.

"So I wouldn't have changed anything that I did, I mean I made the right decisions, made the right swings, hit the putts where I wanted to, and again, typically when I do that it turns out well. It was just one of those days where I'm not going to look back on this Sunday versus any of the previous three on the West Coast. I mean this was, I played a lot better golf today, even though the score doesn't show that."

On taking the positives from another strong week

"I mean currently finishing 5, 5, 4, 5 (on last four holes), I kind of want to go break something, but I'll look back very positively at the way that my attitude was today, the way I was walking, the confidence that I took into every single shot, again. That's going to serve me well going forward. I made a step in the right direction today, regardless of the result."