Sharp Spi­eth looks ready to go

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Doug Fer­gu­son

ENG­LAND» SOUTH­PORT, With a chance to close out the match, Jor­dan Spi­eth fired his sec­ond shot into the par-5 15th at Royal Birk­dale and it never left the flag, bound­ing onto the green about 20 feet be­hind the hole.

His part­ner Tues­day was Justin Thomas, who watched the flight of the ball and said, “I like hav­ing him on my team when he’s play­ing like this.”

Ev­ery­one is on their own when the Bri­tish Open be­gins on Thurs­day, and Spi­eth is look­ing sharp enough to be listed as a co-fa­vorite with Dustin John­son, the No. 1 player in the world. Spi­eth is com­ing off his sec­ond vic­tory of the year last month at the Trav­el­ers Cham­pi­onship. And when his put­ter is work­ing — it re­ally hasn’t been this year — he is re­garded as a fa­vorite at just about any tour­na­ment.

Still to be de­ter­mined is how much he thrives on links cour­ses like Royal Birk­dale.

What stands out is St. An­drews in 2015, when the 23year-old Texan was go­ing for the third leg of the Grand Slam and missed the play­off by one shot. Even so, he hasn’t fin­ished higher than 30th in the other three Bri­tish Opens he has played.

So much of his mys­tique is built around that 2015 sea­son — the Masters and U.S. Open, five vic­to­ries, the FedEx Cup. So many of the ex­pec­ta­tions of Spi­eth now are mea­sured against that sea­son. Those are rare even for the great­est play­ers, and it might be Spi­eth’s bad luck that it hap­pened to him so early in his ca­reer. He still wouldn’t trade it. Asked to mea­sure his game now com­pared with two years ago, Spi­eth said his long game is bet­ter, but he hasn’t been mak­ing putts. Such is golf.

“I rec­og­nize that be­ing five years in now ... and five years doesn’t make me a vet­eran, but it helps me re­al­ize kind of how things go,” he said. “And last year I was pretty caught in 2015. This year I’m not. Hope­fully, we can have an­other one or two like that. But if we keep on try­ing to im­prove each part of the game, stick to the process, then we’ll have the re­sults we want.”

Tues­day had sun­shine on the Lan­cashire Coast and a light wind com­ing from a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion.

The course is fast, and balls are bounc­ing high when land­ing, which is links golf at its best.

In any con­di­tions, Birk­dale is not a course that leads to low scor­ing, cer- tainly not like what Hen­rik Sten­son had last year at Royal Troon when he set the ma­jor cham­pi­onship record of 264 in his bril­liant duel with Phil Mick­el­son.

The low­est score ever at Royal Birk­dale was 272 by Ian Baker-Finch in 1991.

Spi­eth still re­ferred to the course as among the fairest he has seen in his limited ex­pe­ri­ence at golf’s old­est cham­pi­onship. And when he looks around the land­scape, he sees more bal­ance of power than ever be­fore.

Just two years ago, Spi­eth was con­sid­ered part of the mod­ern ver­sion of a “Big Three” that in­cluded Rory McIl­roy and Ja­son Day. And then along came John­son, ris­ing to No. 1 in the world in Fe­bru­ary and leav­ing ev­ery­one well be­hind.

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