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Spieth ends fairytale PGA Tour debut with a flourish

Jordan Spieth of U.S. reacts after missing a birdie on the 18th green during the final round of the Tour Championship golf tournament at Eas
Jordan Spieth of U.S. reacts after missing a birdie on the 18th green during the final round of the Tour Championship golf tournament at Eas

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Rookie sensation Jordan Spieth ended a fairytale PGA Tour season in scintillating fashion at the Tour Championship on Sunday, chasing tournament leader Henrik Stenson hard before finishing in a tie for second.

Aged just 20, American Spieth reeled off three consecutive birdies from the seventh, and four in a row from the 13th to raise hopes of a second victory on the U.S. circuit before his title bid ended with a bogey at the 17th.

A closing six-under-par 64 at East Lake Golf Club in the PGA Tour's season finale left him at 10-under 270 as he recorded his ninth top-10 in just 23 starts, including a maiden win at the John Deere Classic in July.

"It's been a dream come true," Spieth told reporters of his 2013 campaign which began in January when he had no PGA Tour status and was competing on the lower-tier Web.com Tour.

"The beginning of the year, my goal was just to get on Tour next season. It was just to get my 2014 PGA Tour card. I thought that it would come through the Web.com Tour this year.

"Those couple of weeks at Puerto Rico and Tampa really changed my golf life. To be able to play the PGA Tour this year, and then obviously (winning) the John Deere opened things up."

Nine months ago, Spieth had to play in a Thursday qualifier just to get into a Monday qualifier for the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines where he missed the cut in his first tournament as a professional.

However, after recording successive top-10s on the Web.com Tour, he returned to the PGA Tour in early March for the Puerto Rico Open where he tied for second and has not looked back.

"I just had to readjust goals a couple of different times this year and I definitely exceeded any expectations I could have imagined starting the year," said Spieth.

A tie for seventh at the Tampa Bay Championship in mid-March earned him special temporary member status on the PGA Tour, making him eligible for unlimited sponsor exemptions for the rest of the year.

FULL STATUS

Spieth went on to win his maiden PGA Tour title at the John Deere Classic in July to secure full membership status before losing out in a playoff for last month's Wyndham Championship.

Earlier this month, he tied for fourth at the Deutsche Bank Championship, then earned one of two wildcard picks for the Presidents Cup by U.S. captain Fred Couples less than 48 hours later.

"The biggest stage is coming in a week-and-a-half so I'm excited for it," Spieth said of the October 3-6 Presidents Cup in Dublin, Ohio. "I'm not going to take two or three days off like I probably would have done

"If I wasn't playing Presidents Cup, I would have taken a week or two off with how much I've been playing, but I really want to keep everything where it's at. There's no need to let everything sink in. I've got to stay focused."

Spieth, the youngest player ever to qualify for the Tour Championship, began the final round at East Lake seven shots off the lead and was not fully aware of his overall position until late on the back nine.

"I really wasn't looking at the boards," he said. "I figured he (Stenson) was up there a ways, so I knew that I probably needed to birdie the last three holes, after birdieing 13, 14, 15.

"I did what I could there, and unfortunately that shot happened on 17. I was in between clubs. I figured if I hit it solid with a big draw, it would be perfect ... and I caught it a touch fat trying to kill it."

Spieth hit a nine-iron approach into a plugged lie in a greenside bunker at the par-four 17th on the way to a bogey, which handed Stenson a two-stroke advantage the Swede never relinquished.

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry)

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