By Mark Lamport-Stokes
AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Four-times major winner Raymond Floyd knows a thing or two about mental toughness in golf, when the pressure is at its most intense, and that is the one quality he admires most in Masters leader Jordan Spieth.
American young gun Spieth was a runner-up and then champion in his first two starts at Augusta National and he launched his title defense in impressive style on Thursday by shooting a bogey-free 66 in tricky gusting winds.
Now aged 22, Spieth won the Masters and U.S. Open last year before ending a stellar PGA Tour campaign with a total of five titles and an array of other awards while his brilliant putting already ranks among the best of all time.
"Well, it's incredible what he's already done given his youth," Floyd, 73, told Reuters under the stately oak tree outside the iconic Augusta National clubhouse on Friday.
"He plays the golf course very comfortably ... he has a comfort level with it. To come back defending and go out in difficult conditions the way he did yesterday and shoot six-under without a bogey is very impressive.
"He's so refreshing and so mature for his years and I think he's going to be a great player for a long, long time to come."
Floyd was renowned for his own superb short game, mental toughness and distinctive stare during the American's Hall of Fame career that produced 22 victories on the PGA Tour, including the 1976 Masters.
He sees those same qualities in Texan Spieth, who this week is bidding to become only the fourth player ever to claim back-to-back Masters titles.
"To see what he's accomplished in such a short amount of time tells you that he is a head above everybody else," said Floyd, who tied the then-Masters record of 17-under-par 271 set by Jack Nicklaus in 1965 with his triumph 40 years ago.
"And he has that extra little something. Certainly he has belief and confidence in what he does, and he has the game to prove it.
"But the mental toughness is what comes to mind to me if I had to separate any one thing - his mental discipline and his mental toughness."
Twelve months ago, Spieth landed his first Green Jacket with a stunning wire-to-wire victory by four shots at Augusta National, matching Tiger Woods' tournament record low of 18-under 270 for 72 holes.
At 21, he became the second youngest Masters winner behind Woods after enthralling the golfing world with his ability to remain ice-cool whenever he faced adversity while putting sublimely on some of the most treacherous greens in the game.
"Right now, Spieth is proving he's as good a putter as there is, especially when it means something," said Floyd, who clinched his first major win at the 1969 PGA Championship in Dayton, Ohio after holding off Gary Player by one shot.
"And that's what good putting is all about - guys that can make it when they need it. And Spieth sure is proving right now that he's the best in the world."
(Editing by Larry Fine)