Spi­eth feel­ing no pres­sure

Texan has a chance to make his­tory at the PGA Cham­pi­onship

Cape Breton Post - - Sports - BY DOUG FER­GU­SON

Jor­dan Spi­eth knows all about pres­sure. He also knows about the his­tory that awaits him at the PGA Cham­pi­onship.

Sur­pris­ingly, he doesn’t think the two are con­nected.

Spi­eth un­der­stands what is at stake in the fi­nal ma­jor cham­pi­onship of the year. A vic­tory would make the 24-year-old Texan only the sixth player — and the youngest by about six months over Tiger Woods — to cap­ture the ca­reer Grand Slam.

And he has never felt more at ease.

Maybe that will change when Spi­eth gets to Quail Hol­low Club for the 99th edi­tion of the PGA Cham­pi­onship, and the con­ver­sa­tion shifts from his Bri­tish Open vic­tory and that amaz­ing fin­ish at Royal Birk­dale to the prospect of own­ing all four tro­phies from golf’s big­gest events.

“There’s go­ing to be a bunch of buildup and hype around it, and it’s go­ing to be said a lot,’’ Spi­eth said. “But it’s al­most like if we don’t win ... we’re free-wheel­ing. I’m go­ing to play to win. And if it doesn’t go well, then so what?’’

Woods was the most re­cent ad­di­tion to golf’s most elite group when he won the U.S. Open and Bri­tish Open in a span of 35 days in 2000.

It took 13 years be­fore any­one else even had the chance, and now there are three can­di­dates. Phil Mick­el­son picked up the third leg of the ca­reer Grand

Slam at the 2013 Bri­tish Open, and Rory McIl­roy joined him by win­ning the claret jug a year later. In both cases, they had to wait un­til the fol­low­ing year for their op­por­tu­nity to get the last one — Mick­el­son at the U.S. Open, McIl­roy at the Mas­ters.

Spi­eth only has to wait three weeks, which is one rea­son he doesn’t feel any anx­i­ety.

For him, the pres­sure was get­ting to this point.

It was hav­ing a three-shot lead go­ing into the fi­nal round of the Bri­tish Open, know­ing that ev­ery­one was watch­ing to see if he would have a re­peat of the 2016 Mas­ters, when he crum­bled in a three-hole stretch on the back nine.

“I had to get over some added pres­sure and fear, which shouldn’t ever hap­pen — fear of what I was go­ing to have to an­swer and how long I would have to an­swer,’’ he said. “It’s an­noy­ing more than any­thing. What’s asked and what’s pub­lished is ul­ti­mately what the pub­lic ends up think­ing. And it’s then your rep­u­ta­tion to an ex­tent. The only rep­u­ta­tion I should care about is first off, what I think of my­self. Sec­ondly, what our teams thinks. Third, the other guys, my peers. After that, you shouldn’t care.

“But that’s some­thing you have to work on,’’ he said. “And that’s a crash course out here at the speed we’ve been go­ing through things.’’

Spi­eth surely could draw on his ex­pe­ri­ence from two years ago, when he won the Mas­ters and U.S. Open at age 21 and headed to St. An­drews to pur­sue the cal­en­dar Grand Slam. He missed a play­off by one shot in the Bri­tish Open.

In both si­t­u­a­tions, he al­ready had won a ma­jor that year.

The same can’t be said for McIl­roy and Dustin John­son.

John­son never imag­ined he would come to the fi­nal ma­jor with­out even be­ing in con­tention for one this year. Be­fore the Mas­ters, he was com­ing off his third straight vic­tory. Then he slipped down the stairs and wrenched his back, sidelin­ing him on the eve of the Mas­ters. He missed the cut at the U.S. Open. He fell be­hind early at the Bri­tish Open.

McIl­roy hasn’t won all year, and he split with his cad­die after the Bri­tish Open. McIl­roy un­der­stands the value of ma­jor cham­pi­onships. In a year with­out a vic­tory, how would he mea­sure his sea­son if he were to win the PGA Cham­pi­onship?

“Awe­some,’’ he said. “Great year.’’

McIl­roy has rea­son to be ex­cited about this PGA Cham­pi­onship in Char­lotte, North Carolina. He won his first PGA Tour event at Quail Hol­low in 2010. He won again two years ago by seven shots.

“There are cour­ses that you’re go­ing to go to that you’ve played well at be­fore, and it’s not go­ing to be too much dif­fer­ent just be­cause it’s a dif­fer­ent tour­na­ment,’’ McIl­roy said. “It’s the same golf course, same shots you need to hit.’’

It’s mostly the same course. Quail Hol­low re­turned to the PGA Tour sched­ule in 2003, though it went through some dra­matic changes in re­cent years.


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