Jordan Spieth, the bairn-faced assassin with the guile of a grandmaster, played his first round at the Old Course like it was his 50th.
So much for a lack of links preparation – perhaps the young Texan should assimilate every new terrain by using a computer-game simulator.
It is early days on the Fife coast, of course, but Spieth’s five-under 67 leaves him well-placed in the chasing pack and having navigated his first 18 holes at St Andrews with remarkable poise. There were few blemishes during a first round that proved just why this clean-cut kid from Dallas is on the hunt for his third major of the year, continuing to turn everything he touches into gold.
Spieth sunk seven birdies and also made two bogeys playing alongside the leader, Dustin Johnson, just weeks after the pair had vied against each other at Chambers Bay. On this evidence the victor and nearly-man of the US Open could both be in contention again come Sunday evening, dissecting their way through these verdant links in contrasting styles but with similar results.
Johnson, whose drive from the tee on the 4th ended up 80 yards past Spieth’s, powered through the relatively tame winds in typically robust fashion. Johnson’s average drive was 322 yards, yet his compatriot’s touch on the greens remains his most valuable asset.
Time and again Spieth’s ball dropped in the cup with just a single putt while Hideki Matsuyama, also in the group, was often left wanting on the baize despite solid approach work.
It is Spieth’s ability to decipher that makes him such a rare and watchable talent. There is something pure about his game, a no-frills approach and capacity to compute the complexities of a new course in the swiftest of time. On his first visit to Augusta he played the front nine and returned the following day with a single ball to complete a 68.
Here it was the 21-year-old’s front nine that fizzed. Spieth was out in 31, hitting every green in regulation and carrying on from where he left off at John Deere. He opened with successive birdies – putting both from within 10ft – before gaining shots on the 5th, 6th and 7th.
On each he never appeared rushed. Play might have been slow across the Old Course all day but, with a mass entourage of spectators and press watching, Spieth had the air of a man who has just won two major championships in succession. On the 6th he approached his ball on the fairway but took a step back for another word with Mike Greller, his caddie, before homing it in 8ft from the cup.
“I’m very pleased with the start,” said Spieth. “I saw a 65 in our group and if DJ keeps driving it the way he is, then I’m going to have to play my best golf to have a chance. 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-fives. I don’t have that in the bag so I’ve got to make up for it with ball-striking.
“[There was] no chat about the US Open at all, as I wouldn’t imagine there would be, other than talking about the differences in the course here and there. But I enjoy playing with Dustin. I’ve played a lot of golf with him. You know, it was unfortunate – it was an unfortunate ending to the Open in general, and today we just got off to a normal round of golf like always and we were able to actually feed off each other and enjoy the day.
“The game plan worked out perfectly and we knew – Michael has walked two or three extra rounds on this course this week already. He was out here at 4am this morning walking the course. 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.”
Spieth’s back nine was a little more erratic as he found a fairway bunker on the 13th for a bogey five before being snared by the sand on the Road Hole. Redemption arrived on the last with a finely judged 20ft putt downhill for birdie, ensuring a back nine of level par.
On Friday Spieth, Johnson and Matsuyama tee off at 2.34pm, potentially faced with the more inclement conditions when the wind is expected to be up. For this youngster it is a challenge to enjoy, not endure.
“You need to put yourself in a good position to have some shots to spare and not worry about a cut line or anything, so tomorrow, we never know with the forecast,” said Spieth. “It’s definitely going to be a brutal day. We just don’t know when the rain is going to start, when it’s going to stop, if it’s going to come back. I think that tomorrow is a true Scottish day and that we all should enjoy the challenge ahead.”
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