The setting, day four of the Masters and the silent corner that is Augusta National’s 11th tee. The sentiment, an indicator of the ruthlessness of Jordan Spieth.
He was six shots ahead of Justin Rose. “We are two down to this guy, not six in front,” Spieth forcefully told his caddie, Michael Greller. “We have to keep going.”
Maybe Spieth was disappointed with his eventual, four-shot margin of victory. For all the striking maturity and level-headedness of this 21-year-old golfing sensation it would be utter folly to ignore his ferocious will to win. In the Open Championship at St Andrews, starting on Thursday, Spieth is seeking to become the fresh-faced assassin of the links by winning his third major in succession. In doing so he would be installed as the world No1.
Spieth has been offended by the notion his character will alter should progress continue with such pace. “Why is that? Why should I change?” he asked. “I figure we have gotten where we are right now from who our team has been. Why should our entire personality change? It’s been working. We may as well keep it that way.”
St Andrews is golf’s grandest stage. Here lies a town steeped in the sport and a course as appealing as was the case in the 19th century. It is a regret even of multiple Open winners, Tom Watson among them, if they do not triumph here. A two-tier stand forms the backdrop to the 18th green, part-illustration of how this championship has grown into an enormous corporate entity.
For all that there is concern over the decline in golf’s appeal, life at the top has never been more rewarding. Spieth, a university drop-out, has amassed more than $16m in little over two years. That Texas college will screen the Open live on its sports television network because of one competitor alone.
Spieth will not have things all his own way. If weather forecasts are to be believed he finds himself in the more problematic half of the Open draw and will have to battle gusts of up to 40mph on Friday afternoon.
Venues such as the Old Course should never be tame but it is unfortunate when Mother Nature plays such a determining role in the outcome of major events. Spieth, to his credit and typically, has shrugged off such fears. “If we wanted good weather we’d go play in California,” he said on Wednesday. “We come over here because we want to embrace the opportunity of handling these conditions.”
This is a player who shot a brilliant 63 in ferocious wind to win the Australian Open. He is the type to rise to the challenge of what the Fife coast may throw at him rather than wilt and whine. There can be only sadness we have been denied the possibility of an epic duel between Spieth and the man he hopes to surpass, Rory McIlroy. Nobody will be more upset than the injured McIlroy as he surveys the wonderful stage he has been denied. The world No1’s aim is to return for next month’s US PGA Championship and reclaim the spotlight from the “golden child”.
The buzz phrase relating to Spieth is his “golfing IQ”. In essence he has the ability to size up the intricacies of courses almost immediately. On his first visit to Augusta Spieth played only the front nine. He returned the following day to complete a full 18 holes with a single ball. His score? 68.
It should not be an automatic assumption, then, that Spieth will suffer on account of his lack of St Andrews experience, albeit there is a marked difference between his Open buildup and that for the US Open, where he played 63 pre-tournament holes at the venue. Whereas Spieth powered home from the front for his Masters win, at Chambers Bay more of a battle ensued. In both cases he had an unwavering belief in himself which has made the trip across the Atlantic. “Obviously I imagined it and wished that it was all possible,” Spieth said.
“I just wasn’t sure how I’d be able to handle the Masters this year, leading all four rounds and being able to close it out. You don’t sleep well on the lead in a major and so to do it for a few days and still continue to play the best golf I’ve ever played and putt the best I’ve ever putted, that gave me a lot of confidence.
“Really that tournament right there established: ‘Hey, we can do this going forward in each one if we get the chance.’ We’ve done it before, why can’t we do it again?”
In theory St Andrews plays into Spieth’s hands. The hitting of at least 15 greens in regulation per round should not be a problem for anyone with aspirations of lifting the Claret Jug. From there the fun starts. Spieth has established himself as the sport’s most brilliant putter, it is what sets him apart.
Gusting winds may be a necessary defence. The Old Course is lush and a veritable birdie-fest for the world’s best players if the weather does not determine otherwise.
There are entrants who will have rather enjoyed this Spieth-dominated Open prelude. Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson, Martin Kaymer, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson can make their own cases to be afforded Open respect. The depth of talent in modern golf is more impressive than is generally recognised. Louis Oosthuizen, brilliant when winning at St Andrews in 2010, has returned to form at an opportune time.
And what of Tiger, the ever-bullish Tiger? It defies all logic that the world No241, a figure who has been in such catastrophic decline since the end of 2013, can end his wait for a 15th major in Scotland. What a story the alternative narrative – the one Woods insists is legitimate – would be. It would offer an epic boost to the sport, never mind the man himself.
The 39-year-old should make the cut and may challenge once more; having seen and done it all before is a handy tool in the midst of switching winds. If Woods does not achieve even that his perceptions will have been even more flawed than already looks the case. This event is hugely significant in the fallen great’s career, far more than he would readily admit.
Watson’s departure from the Open will trigger emotion, the exit of Peter Dawson less so although the Royal & Ancient’s outgoing chief executive was at least afforded a pre-tournament first.
The word “women” was not mentioned during Dawson’s traditional media conference, a nod to the significance of the R&A’s belated admission of female members.
The awkward moment for Dawson arrived in respect of Donald Trump’s ownership of Turnberry. Golf has to be slightly careful about taking the moral high ground on any issue but there is understandable concern over a course on the Open rota which is presided over by someone who can make such offensive remarks as Trump’s regarding Mexican migrants to the United States.
“Well, it’s had a lot of publicity, hasn’t it?” said Dawson. “We don’t have any decisions to make about Turnberry for quite some time and I think we’ll just let a bit of time pass and future championship committees will deal with them at the time.”
Open competitors can only hope their golf ball is not kicked as far into the long grass over the next four days.
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