Four reasons why Jordan Spieth will/won’t win the 144th British Open at St. Andrews, and the third leg of an unprecedented calendar-year Grand Slam, starting Thursday on the east coast of Scotland.
WHY HE WILL WIN
1) Because he won the John Deere Classic and U.S. Open without even playing his best golf.
“To be honest, he never hit the ball that great on the first nine holes,” Branden Grace, Spieth’s playing partner for the final round at Chambers, said after he’d had a few days to digest what had happened. (Grace tied for fourth and earned enough for special temporary PGA Tour membership.)
“He struggled around the tee,” Grace added, “but he’d get it around. He hit the green, took the bogeys out of play, took the pars, headed forward.”
Yikes. How many will Spieth win by if he actually hits it good?
2) Because winning is a habit, and Spieth has forgotten how to lose.
His totals just six and a half months into 2015 are staggering: four wins, three seconds and 11 top-10s in 18 starts. It all adds up to around $9 million in prize money and puts the young Texan somewhere in the middle third of a season for the ages. He has developed an asset that is all too rare, especially in golf: absolute belief. In winning the U.S. Open he became only the sixth player since 1934 to win the season’s first two majors; next he’ll become the first player since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win the first three.
Will it hurt him that he chose to play the Deere instead of the Scottish Open? Please. He’s just 21, and it’s not as if he was slumming it on the way across the pond; he was traveling in comfort on a chartered Boeing 767 with 100 (entirely First Class) seats. He even played a practice round Monday.
3) Because Rory McIlroy is a klutz.
McIlroy, with his length and right-to-left ball flight—remember that opening 63 he shot at the Old Course in 2010?—was on track to put a stop to the Summer of Spieth at St. Andrews. Rounding into form just in time to defend his Open title, Rory said after his T9 finish at Chambers Bay, “I’ve never hit the ball as good in a major championship for four rounds.” Then the world No. 1 mangled his ankle playing soccer with friends and had to bow out of the Open. As if Spieth really needed the help.
4) Because Spieth simply doesn’t get rattled.
Spieth’s first après-U.S. Open post on Instagram—of the smiling winner and his friends chillin’ on the back of a speeding motorboat in the Bahamas—looked like an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue cover.
That’s the way he plays golf, too—a picture of calm amid the churn.
Remember when he was paired with Woods at the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open? Spieth was so cowed he dusted Woods by nine strokes over 36 holes.
Yeah, there’s going to be “noise” (Spieth’s term) surrounding his bid for a Spieth Slam this week, but no player is better equipped to handle it than him. His bulletproof mental fortitude, so unmistakable at this year’s Masters and U.S. Open, will stand out in high relief at the British Open, too, what with Spieth having been put in the same Thursday-Friday threesome as the extravagantly talented but disastrously flaky Dustin Johnson.
Spieth, who will turn 22 on July 27, handily wins that battle of wits.
WHY HE WON'T
1) Because no one snaps his fingers and figures out the Old Course.
Okay, fine, Spieth is living a charmed life, savoring a charmed season, and playing at a level we haven’t seen since Woods circa 2000. And sure, he got Chambers Bay sorted out after shooting an 83 there as an amateur.
But Spieth has never before played an Open at St. Andrews. And taming the Old Course—knowing where all those pot bunkers are, predicting how all those humps and hollows will affect shots, getting your lines figured out (especially on 17)—takes more than just three days of practice rounds. Tiger Woods suggested as much in his press conference here earlier this week, explaining that different winds can bring new bunkers into play and even make it advisable to aim for adjoining fairways in lieu of your own.
Consider: Tom Watson nearly won the 2009 British Open at age 59. Then came three straight 40-something winners: Darren Clarke, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson. Was all of that just a coincidence? Hardly. Links golf still favors wizened old pros over whiz kids like Spieth.
2) Because pressure gets to everyone eventually.
Every player has a choke point, even Spieth, and while he mostly kept it together at Chambers Bay, he cracked with a late double-bogey. Was it nerves? Maybe. But even if it wasn’t, the pressure will be ratcheted up considerably at St. Andrews, where the eyes of the world will be upon him and the British press will be swarming like thirsty mosquitoes.
All of which is going to (finally) take a toll on Spieth.
3) Because Spieth can’t beat Louis Oosthuizen twice in a row.
Oosthuizen could have easily won the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay had he not been a part of that bizarre Bermuda Triangle threesome (Oosty, Woods, Rickie Fowler) on Thursday, when they all inexplicably turned into 10 handicappers and only Oosty managed to break 80 (77). King Louis stormed back with scores of 66-66-67 to tie for second. And now he returns to St. Andrews, a course he practically owns, having won the 2010 Open there by seven shots over Lee Westwood.
This is Oosthuizen’s Open to lose. He won’t.
4) Because St. Andrews, the home of golf, is also the home of the golf gods, who won’t just go along while Spieth waltzes to another W.
“All Open championships,” Dustin Johnson said in his press conference earlier this week, “depend on the weather.” Indeed they do.
Remember when Woods won the Masters and U.S. Open in 2002? He was in just about the exact spot Spieth finds himself in now, and at the British Open at Muirfield, Woods got himself into contention through the first two rounds. History awaited! Then, stuck on the bad end of the draw, his grand slam bid was unceremoniously blown away as he shot 81.
Woods was history, all right.
The early weather forecast calls for gale force winds of up to 40 mph when Spieth, Woods and others are on the Old Course on Friday afternoon.
Spieth versus the golf gods? Hmm. I’ll take the golf gods.