Jordan Spieth offset any concerns that he may be treating the Open Championship lightly, not least those raised after an opening round of level par at the John Deere Classic, by winning the PGA Tour event in a Sunday night play-off. A day earlier he had had his finest professional round, of 61.
“What an incredible week,” Spieth said. “I started it so slowly, so to shoot 20 under over three rounds is pretty special.”
He had been criticised in some quarters for not playing in the Scottish Open but produced his own answer. “I really didn’t care anyway. I came here for a reason. We accomplished that reason. I certainly have some momentum going into next week.
“It is very satisfying to have stretches where I played poorly and still to come out with a win. It is good to know that, when I feel that spark, I can get it going to 20 under.”
If anticipation was not already at fever pitch over the 21-year-old Texan and his attempt at the Old Course this week to win three majors in succession, it is now. In his last 20 worldwide starts Spieth has claimed six wins, 11 top-three places, 14 top-10s and more than $9m. He is the hottest player in the game.
Spieth has the opportunity to upstage Rory McIlroy as the top-ranked golfer in the world by lifting the Claret Jug in Fife next weekend. Weeks ago such a scenario was fanciful.
The Open absence of the injured McIlroy seems even more acute, given a fourth Spieth victory of 2015. He turned out at the John Deere to honour a commitment to an event which was good to him during younger days.
Spieth prevailed at the second sudden-death hole in Illinois. The little-known Tom Gillis was his runner-up. The pair had finished 72 holes tied at 20 under par, with Spieth’s charge even to get to that point worthy of credit.
He had stumbled in the early stages of Sunday before achieving birdies on four of the TPC Deere Run’s closing five holes to draw level with Gillis. When Gillis found trees and subsequently water on the second play-off hole Spieth’s victory was assured.
Some, though, have raised eyebrows at the Spieth strategy. Paul McGinley, Europe’s successful Ryder Cup captain, was among them.
“You’re talking about 95% over the last 20 years have played some kind of links golf on the week before the Open,” said the Irishman on assuming captaincy of the Ballantine’s Golf Club. “Because it is very different.
“Spieth has played once [at St Andrews] so is he going to work it out? Jordan played 63 holes of practice around Chambers Bay the week before the US Open. He was more prepared than anyone in the field. He had a caddie who used to caddie there and was married there. Are you telling me that wasn’t the difference of one shot whether he won the US Open or not?
“Having said that, I don’t want to be critical of Jordan because I’m full of admiration for his sense of loyalty to sponsors who have been good to him in the past. I admire that quality but at the same time, if you want to be really ruthless, I believe you should, like tennis players do, be practising on the same surface you play in the major. He’s not putting the odds in his favour, put it that way.
“Knowing the golf course moves the needle. Being a big hitter moves the needle, things add up to the needle being moved quite significantly and a lot of those things were lined up for Rory. You’ve got to look at the basics of it and, when you add all those things up, and the needle is not really being moved that much for Jordan, because he doesn’t know the golf course that well, he’s doesn’t hit it 310 [yards] in the air, and he’s not playing a links golf course the week before.”
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