Friday 28 October 2016

Jordan Spieth is looking to create golfing history

Texan bidding to become first man to win opening three Majors since Ben Hogan in 1953

Jordan Spieth of the U.S. gestures as he stands on the seventh tee during a practice round ahead of the British Open golf championship on the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland, July 15, 2015. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne
Jordan Spieth of the U.S. gestures as he stands on the seventh tee during a practice round ahead of the British Open golf championship on the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland, July 15, 2015. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

Forget about Tiger v Phil or Rory v Ricky.

 With respect to Messrs Woods, Mickelson, McIlroy and Fowler, the 144th British Open that begins Thursday at St Andrews in Scotland is about Jordan v History.

Jordan as in Spieth. If the 21-year-old American phenomenon lifts the trophy, he will become the first winner of golf's first three major tournaments of the year - the Masters, the US Open and the British Open - since Ben Hogan in 1953.

If he also wins the PGA tournament next month in Wisconsin, Spieth will stand alone as the only man to win all four professional majors in one year, golf's fabled grand slam.

Until two weeks ago the Open promised the added allure of a Rory McIlroy-Spieth showdown.

McIlroy, 26, won the last two majors of 2014 before Spieth took the first two of 2015. But McIlroy injured his ankle playing football with friends and withdrew from the British Open.

But Jordan v History is good enough, because Britain's Open has dashed grand slam hopes before. In 1972 Jack Nicklaus won the Masters and US Open, only to succumb in the British Open to Lee Trevino's miracle chip-in on the penultimate hole.


It was 30 years until anybody else started the British Open with the first two legs of the grand slam in their bag.

In 2002 Tiger Woods arrived at Muirfield with a champion's momentum, but wind and rain struck the course just before his third-round tee time and he slumped to a horrible 81.

"I put myself right there in contention after two rounds," Woods reminisced on Tuesday. "Just happened to catch it (the weather) at the wrong time."

In 2000-2001 Woods held all four major titles at once, but he did not win them in the same year.

As for Spieth, Woods says: "Obviously he's in great form. It's just a matter of going out there and executing his game plan."

Spieth will draw on the memory of back-to-back wins at the end of last season. The American said it would be a simpler task to cope with jet-lag at this week's British Open than it was in November and December when he followed his victory at the Australian Open by finishing first at the Hero World Challenge in Florida.

"The toughest part here is the time change and it's only six hours," Spieth said. "It's not like going to Asia where you normally need a couple of days to even be able to wake up.

"I got up at 7:30 this morning, which felt like 4:30 or something to me by this point, but it wasn't too bad. I'm sleeping just fine, adjusting to jet-lag and by tomorrow morning I'll be 100 percent."

The Texan was criticised in some quarters for choosing to compete at last week's John Deere Classic in Illinois rather than arriving early at St Andrews to prepare.

Spieth, however, said it was difficult to argue with a preparatory week that led to him securing a fourth victory of the year.

"I don't think anybody is going to argue with a win," he added. "That was what we set out to do last week, to feel the pressure over the weekend...see what tendencies I got into that we could adjust for major championship pressure.

"That's exactly what we did. We came out with a win, which is even better. I just liked the fact I could go somewhere I could play hard and possibly win a PGA Tour event in preparation."

Spieth will partner fellow American Dustin Johnson, the player he pipped for the title at last month's US Open, and Japan's Hideki Matsuyama in today's opening round.

An improbable subplot for the weekend would be a Battle of Generations between Spieth and one of golf's "old guns". Maybe Mickelson, 45, winner of the 2013 Open. Or even the 39-year-old Woods, who won the Open at St Andrews in 2000 and 2005 but now is struggling like a weekend duffer.


Far-fetched? Absolutely. But American Tom Watson, a five-times Open winner who was long past his prime, was one shot away from winning the title before losing in a playoff in 2009, at age 59.

More likely would be a shootout between Spieth and another young gun, 26-year-old American Ricky Fowler. That would pit logic v loyalty.

Last week Fowler did the logical thing to prepare for the Open. He flew to Scotland, giving himself time to adjust to the time difference.

He played in the Scottish Open on a links course in Gullane, nearly two hours from St Andrews, and he won the tournament.

Given the vagaries of golf and the Scottish weather, anything can happen at the Open. But if Fowler does win, Spieth's loyalty to the Deere will be second-guessed until next year's Open. And well beyond.

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