CARNOUSTIE, Scotland — Forget what anyone at GOLF.com, ESPN or the Golf Channel ever told you about the struggles of Jordan Spieth. He is above it. They don’t last. He proved it at Augusta National earlier this year and he’s proving it again here in Scotland.
Jordan Spieth is the king of Doubt-Me-I-Dare-You golf. The 24-year-old has his slumps — he hasn’t finished in the top 10 since April — and his putter hasn’t worked well in months. His lowest moments can prove to be shockingly low. It’s only when he resets himself and plays like he did Saturday — shooting a bogey-free 65 — that we’re reminded those struggles are just the surface level stuff of a supremely talented golfer. A golfer whose mind and game mesh together for a peak that is simply better and more entertaining than the rest of the PGA Tour.
“I was walking with Cameron [McCormick], and I thought, How about I just send it on No. 1,” Spieth said Saturday. Coach McCormick agreed, so Spieth sent. It became a defining moment of the day.
The par-4 opener sat 380 yards away. His drive crashed into the fairway, rolling out toward the hole. Twenty yards it bounced. Forty yards it ran. Sixty, 70, 80 yards. It rolled and rolled and rolled.
The starter chimed in: “On the tee, from the USA, Kevin Chappell.” Spieth’s ball was still rolling.
Finally, 28 seconds after Spieth had started his backswing, his ball came to rest on the front edge of the green. The fact that it reached the putting surface was important for his score, sure, but this meant something much bigger. Spieth was feeling himself.
Ten minutes later, and from 10 feet away, his putt rimmed around the hole some 300 degrees before dropping for an eagle. From three back to one. He was off and running. In that moment, Moving Day at the British Open was on. What followed was one of the best rounds of Jordan Spieth’s career. He added four birdies and not a single bogey en route to shooting an “I’m back” 65 to grab a share of the British Open lead at nine under.
— The Open (@TheOpen) July 21, 2018
The eagle was ominous. On the broadcast, it split up a birdie stretch ocurring on the other side of the course by a guy named Tiger Woods. Woods was the loudest afternoon pace-setter with a 66. Justin Rose had charged even earlier with a 64. Whenever that happens early on a major weekend, the course seems gettable for all. Spieth’s eagle foreshadowed the special.
The reigning Champion Golfer of the Year added a birdie on the 4th and another on the 11th. Pars everywhere in between. With a two-putt birdie on 14, he tied for the lead at eight under, headed to Carnoustie’s brutal finishing stretch. The final four holes are four of the toughest seven out here. The wind had picked up. Car-Nasty felt like it was just a couple of knots away.
But just like he did on the 1st, Spieth played aggressively. He attacked the 243-yard 16th with a low cutting approach. After contact, Spieth’s caddie Michael Greller motored ahead. Spieth walked on too, but like his first shot of the day, it was a long, drawn-out wait for the result. It happens a lot on this dried out course. Spieth’s ball hit the front half of the green and rolled up a hill to 10 feet. Finally, only after 16 paces forward, he pumped his fist. The birdie putt was a no-doubter.
Defending champion @JordanSpieth is now the outright leader at -9.
— The Open (@TheOpen) July 21, 2018
If his thrilling Open victory last year was any indication, when Jordan Spieth gets in his zone, he’s not missing opportunities. For further proof, see his 64 earlier this year on Sunday at Augusta. Or just ask his playing partner. “He’s Jordan,” Chappell said. “You know what you’re going to get with him. He’s going to talk to his ball. He’s going to be diligent. He’s such a pro. He’s a pro’s pro. He’s not going to waste shots. He’s not going to make too many mistakes. I can learn a lot from him because of that.”
Chappell carved out a smooth 67 and sits just two shots back, all whilst learning a few things about major championship golf.
“The crowds are unbelievable,” he said. “I know they’re greeting him, The Open champion from last year, but you still can’t help but get goosebumps yourself.”
Elite play from Spieth, struggles or not, should never come as a surprise. He’s one of the greatest players in the world and just 24 years old. Somehow, with a fresh haircut Saturday, he looked even younger. (He paid nine pounds for the trim and was unhappy with the length, but still left a meaty tip.) Moments after launching himself into what he called “pole position,” the natural happened. Golf writers asked him about what it all means.
What would it mean for Spieth to defend his title, win a fourth major, and do it all before age 25? He really doesn’t know, and right now he doesn’t care. His future is both undetermined and certain. He’ll be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Plan the ceremony now. Three majors in hand, gunning for a fourth, he already knows it. On the legend front, “What’s four versus three?” Spieth asked. Right now, he’s aiming for fewer strokes than everyone else. The significance can wait. Any further discussion of his struggles can, too.