PACIFIC PALISADES, California (Reuters) - Jordan Spieth was golf's hottest player at the end of 2014 and the fast rising American believes he is close to that level as he prepares for the Masters, the opening major of the year.
World number nine Spieth has recorded top-10s in two of his last three PGA Tour events and was able to recover from a slow start to the Northern Trust Open first round on Thursday with a sizzling back nine.
"I had a couple of good weeks out of the last three," the 21-year-old Texan told reporters after climbing into early contention with a two-under-par 69 on a firm and fast-running Riviera Country Club layout.
"The way I'm striking it and the way my putting has been improving each week, I'm very confident about getting myself into contention here."
Spieth, who ended last year with commanding victories at the Australian Open and the Tiger Woods-hosted Hero World Challenge in Florida, was two over par after his first nine holes at Riviera despite striking the ball well.
"I don't think I missed a shot and I was two-over," he smiled. "Drives were going a foot into the rough and out of the rough you were hitting and just getting over the green, then you've got a tough up and down.
"Conditions are as easy as I think we're going to have in the four days, so I would have liked to take advantage early. It was a great comeback, though, four-under on the back nine."
Spieth, who had started his round at the driveable par-four 10th, birdied the first, fourth, seventh and eighth holes to finish with a flourish.
Asked how his game measured up to the superb form he produced in November and December, he replied: "Not exactly striking it the way I was at the end of last year but that's a work in progress.
"Ideally I hit it like that come that second week of April," he grinned, referring to the Masters. "I'm striking it well. I'm hitting it good enough to get close to these pins, working it both ways.
"If I can keep driving the ball as well as I did today, I'll be in good shape. My short game feels good. Wedges are solid," said Spieth, who became the youngest player in 82 years to win a PGA Tour event at the 2013 John Deere Classic.
Editing by Larry Fine