Grand-slam hype? Jetlag? Lack of experience at the Old Course? No big deal to overcome any odds stacked against you if you’re 21-year-old Jordan Spieth.
Spieth got off to a splendid start in his quest to win three consecutive majors, posting a five-under 67 in the first round of the Open Championship at St Andrews. Was there ever any doubt that the winner of this year’s Masters and U.S. Open would deliver? Not really.
He opened with two straight birdies and then added three more in a row on nos. 5-7, taking advantage of the easier front nine and making the turn with a five-under 31. Around the same time, conditions toughed, with the temperature dropping about 10 degrees and the wind picking up significantly.
After another birdie at the par-3 11th, Spieth took a share of the lead at six-under. He would later call his tee shot the “best I pulled off today.”
“To get that ball to stay up there and knock that putt in to go to 6-under gave me a little extra breathing room,” he added.
However, even the mighty Spieth couldn’t salvage pars on nos. 13 and 17, aka the famed Road Hole, which ranked the most difficult in the opening round, averaging nearly a stroke over par at 4.8.
“Hardest shot I had today has to be just the first two shots on 17,” said Spieth. “I was actually lined up to take it down the left side of the fairway there knowing that if I didn’t strike it well, it’ll get up in the wind and actually hit the right fairway. So I wasn’t trying to hit it where I hit it, just worked out that way.
“And then 17 today, you purposely try and miss the green on the second shot. There’s almost no other way around it. That kind of takes away the point of the hole, but at the same time, it’s the Road Hole at St. Andrews, and today’s pin position is really the only time you can’t really play the hole. I got it into the bunker there and hit a good bunker shot and just not a great putt.”
Spieth’s decision to honor his commitment to play in last week’s John Deere Classic received quite a bit of criticism, with naysayers arguing that he should have skipped the event and instead arrived for extra prep at the Old Course or perhaps played the Scottish Open to acclimate him to the time change and links golf.
“I wanted to come off of a competitive tournament,” said Spieth, who ended up winning the Deere in a playoff with a par on the second extra hole. “I could have played the Scottish, as well. I wanted to go somewhere I was comfortable playing and figured I could get in contention and feel the nerves, and that’s what happened. Our game plan worked out perfectly.
“(My caddie) Michael (Greller) has walked two or three extra rounds on this course this week already. He also was out here at 4:00 something this morning walking the course and (looking at) the pins. It takes a little extra work when we’re over here maybe than if we were over early, but all in all, we had full and complete trust in our knowledge.”
On the par-4 18th, Spieth pulled his tee shot left and methodically paced off the 92 yards to the hole from his position because he obviously hadn’t foreseen being in that spot during his practice rounds. He rolled in a 15-footer for birdie to close out his round with some momentum.
“I hit a drive that would have been in big, big trouble on any other hole,” said Spieth. “Luckily, it was the 18th at St. Andrews. Got a good number. I walked the entire thing off. It was like 92 yards I walked to the green because we weren’t sure from that angle how far we had.
“To see that putt go in was nice. To steal the one back from 17 and to shoot even par on the back nine — which once you turn, it’s into that breeze — is a good score.”
He played alongside first-round leader Dustin Johnson, who fired a bogey-free, seven-under 65 as he unsurprisingly overpowered the golf course with his beastly drives and all-around awesome ballstriking. Spieth, who is more of an average-length hitter, knows he will need his very best if DJ continues to hit it as well as he has in the past month or so — and he hasn’t given any indication that he won’t.
“If D.J. keeps driving it the way he is, then I’m going to have to play my best golf to have a chance,” said Spieth. “It’s hard to argue with somebody who’s splitting bunkers at about 380 yards and just two-putting for birdie on five or six of the holes when there’s only two par-5s. I don’t have that in the bag, so I’ve got to make up for it with ball-striking.”
Spieth isn’t bothered by being outdriven by Johnson, as he knows to play to his own strengths.
“I’ve played enough golf with him to where I believe in my skill set that I can still trump that crazy ability that he has,” said Spieth, who is currently in a tie for eighth. “I expect when he stands on the tee it’s going to be up there miles and down the fairway. I also expect that I can birdie each hole when I stand on the tee. It just happens to be a little different route.”