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Jordan Spieth Struggles on the Greens, But Don't Count Him Out

Day 3 of the British Open in 42 Seconds
Jeff Ritter recaps a windy Saturday at St. Andrews.

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Five shots over 36 holes?

Yeah, Jordan Spieth can make up that kind of ground in that kind of time span. Heck, the way things are going at the wild and windy Old Course, such a margin seems surmountable even over just 18 holes.

“I still believe I can win this tournament,” Spieth said after signing for a second-round 72 that began Friday but didn’t end until around suppertime Saturday. The even-par round kept Spieth, who is bidding to win his third straight major and remain on track for an unprecedented calendar-year grand slam, at 5-under par overall and five off the lead of Dustin Johnson (69).

“I need a really solid round [Sunday], though,” Spieth added, “because Dustin is not letting up. He’s the only one I can speak of, he and Hideki [Matsuyama, 66, 6-under] because I saw it first hand.”

Spieth, who has putted better than anyone in racking up four wins and nearly $9 million so far in 2015, struggled in the wind, three-putting five times in the second round. But there’s plenty of time, and drastic changes on the leaderboard are even more likely in volatile weather.

For inspiration Spieth need only consider the example of Paul Lawrie, 46, who completed a second-round 70 Saturday to get to 8-under par. Lawrie was a record 10 strokes off the lead through 54 holes when he won the 2009 Open at Carnoustie. (He had some help from Jean Van de Velde.)

RELATED: View the British Open Leaderboard

The greatest comeback over the final 36 holes at an Open was by George Duncan, who made up 13 strokes to win the tournament in 1920.

If he’s going to win from his current position (a logjam at 5-under, tied for 14th place) Spieth must somehow forget about the trauma of the second round, which was restarted with the 21-year-old Texan savoring the possibility of an eagle after hitting the green in two at the par-5 14th hole.

Struggling to steady himself in a gale-force wind that would blow golf balls across greens, Spieth three-putted for par. He was ticked, and said that with balls refusing to stay put, play should have been called immediately.

Photo:

Jordan Spieth, hitting a tee shot on 18 on Saturday, is five back of leader Dustin Johnson after 36 holes.

“It’s unfortunate because the position I was in there with that long eagle putt—I guess I should have putted in the dark [Friday] night,” Spieth said. “It would have been a better position to be in even though I couldn’t have really read it. So yeah, I think I lost a stroke there.”

Maybe. Maybe not. Spieth, who took an uncharacteristically high 37 strokes on the greens in the second round, wasn’t putting all that well Friday, either. He, Johnson and Matsuyama all three-putted the 11th green, each of them missing second putts from inside four feet. Spieth would call his Friday-Saturday flatstick struggles “extremely frustrating for me.”

So frustrating, in fact, that he retweeted ESPN anchor Scott Van Pelt’s smackdown of the R&A in which Van Pelt called the decision to play in the morning “a circus” and deemed the high winds “completely unplayable.”

Asked to elaborate on his frustration, though, Spieth took the high road and said he was angrier at himself than at the wind or the R&A.

“To fall from two back to five back isn’t exactly what I wan Spieth: 'I Still Believe I Can Win This Tournament' ted on a Friday [and Saturday],” he said. “But it could have been worse, could have been better. It is what it is, and if I can shoot something like 10-under in the last two rounds, I think I’ll have a chance to win.”

The way things have gone for Spieth in 2015 it’s hard to bet against him. And it would be positively crazy to expect him to putt this bad again.

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