Jordan Spieth admitted it had been a near-perfect day after the world number three fired an ominous 65 in the first round of the British Open on Thursday to plant himself firmly in contention.
The Texan had five birdies, including on back-to-back holes just prior to the turn, and not a single dropped shot on the Southport links to sit level with US Open champion Brooks Koepka on five under par atop the leaderboard midway through the day.
It would have been better but for a missed birdie putt at the 18th, but Spieth was not complaining after ending a run that had seen him fail to break par in his last five opening rounds at a major.
“I couldn’t have done much better today. I missed two greens,” said the 23-year-old, who won the Masters and US Open in 2015.
“This course has a lot of crosswinds, so it’s tough to judge how far the ball is going to fly depending on what shot you play. So that speaks a lot to the ball-striking of the day.”
Given his pedigree, it was noteworthy that Spieth rated the round as “maybe fifth or sixth” of all his major championship efforts.
“Everything was strong. I thought I’d give it a nine across the board for everything — tee balls, ball-striking, short game and putting. So things are in check. It’s just about keeping it consistent.”
He also admitted it set him up nicely for Friday, when conditions are expected to deteriorate considerably with Spieth – who is playing with reigning champion Henrik Stenson — not starting his round until mid-afternoon.
“I thought today’s round was extremely important, as they all are, but given the forecast coming in, I thought you really needed to be in the red today,” added Spieth, who effectively saw his hopes go up in smoke in the second round last year at Troon.
Then, after starting with a level-par 71, he went four-over in miserable conditions and was unable to fully recover despite just making the cut.
“I’ve been on good ends of the draw, bad ends of the draw. So I kind of understand, especially going into a day like tomorrow.
“Last year’s Friday round was…I remember talking in here about the sheets of rain. It was like a sideways water faucet out there.
“And I’m expecting something like that tomorrow. It can’t be much worse than what we had in the second round last year or it would be unplayable. And so I’m kind of prepared for the worst, having experienced it before.”
Ahead of next week’s Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, the form of some of the leading players is a concern.
World No1 Dustin Johnson is certainly losing some of his early-season heat, having missed the cut in his last two tournaments – the US Open and the Memorial. Johnson’s poor show in Jack Nicklaus’ event could be an aberration, having had his second child at the start of that week.
Rory McIlroy has fallen to No4 in the world order as his stop-start season due to his rib injury continues. The 2014 Open champion could not make it to the weekend in last week’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, a tournament he hosts, and also at the US Open. In between, a sparkling final-round 64 catapulted him to tied 17th place at the Travelers Championship, a tournament where he famously used three different putters.
And then there is Jason Day. The Australian, who revealed earlier this year that his mother is terminally ill, can be rightfully excused if he has other things on his mind than golf.
Compared to his amazing run from the 2015 Open onwards, 2017 has been poor with just two top-10s and he comes into the third major of the season on the back of two missed cuts.
Even though there seems to be genuine reasons for the sudden slump in the form of these superstars, the time is now right for them to pull up their socks as we reach the business end of the season. July, August and September are three huge months in golf – with two of the four majors, one World Golf Championship event and the FedEx Cup Playoffs all coming one after the other.
The links course at Royal Birkdale will provide a different kind of test for the players. While McIlroy has had success in the past, Johnson and Day have been consistent at best without being spectacular. The American has three previous top-10s, including a tied second in 2011, while the Aussie has struggled and has only a tied fourth place in the 2015 Open to show as a decent outing.
Both Johnson and Day are not playing this week again, but McIlroy is at Dundonald Links for the Scottish Open.
The Northern Irishman has made the right decision in adding the tournament to his schedule. He desperately needs some more time out on the course, having played only nine tournaments in the first half of the year – at least four fewer than in previous years.
Defending champion Henrik Stenson is also not in his usual solid form, although this is the period of the year when he usually turns it around.
Based purely on current form, the top favourites would be Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Tommy Fleetwood.
Another one bites the dust
If Phil Mickelson and Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay parting ways last month came as a surprise, the split between Lee Westwood and his manager Andrew ‘Chubby’ Chandler is an even bigger shock.
The 44-year-old English golfer and agency International Sports Management (ISM) were together for more than 25 years. Westwood was one of Chandler’s first signings, immediately after the ex-Tour player formed the company in 1989. The former world No1 is joining IMG.
Westwood, who was believed to be part owner of Chandler’s company along with Darren Clarke, had several joint business interests with his manager, including owning champion race horses.
Both parties have remained silent on the reasons for the split.
Rory McIlroy’s British Open preparations were in disarray Friday after the former world number one missed the cut at the Irish Open.
McIlroy was one under for his round with two holes to play but a double-bogey six on the 17th ended any chance of his playing all four days, leaving him one-over-par 73 for the second round.
That saw the current world number four four shots shy of the projected three under cut-off mark in the $7 million event.
It was the second time in three years the defending Irish Open winner had missed the halfway cut and the fourth occasion in the past five years McIlroy will sit out the weekend rounds in the premier Irish event.
“My short game in general is not good as I am making silly mistakes, so it is not good,” he said.
“Today, I was four yards short of the green on 16 but then managing to get it up-and-down from there from the middle of the fairway, so little stuff like that is so huge for momentum.
“I am just not being very efficient with my scoring and that is why I am making it difficult for myself.”
McIlroy struggled tee-to-green, hitting only half of the 14 fairways, and for a second day running took 33 putts on the greens.
As the event host, McIlroy will remain over the weekend to hand the trophy to the new champion.
He will then cross the Irish Sea on Monday in readiness for next week’s Scottish Open and follow up with the British Open a week later at Royal Birkdale.
American Daniel Im added a second round 67 to move to the clubhouse lead on 13-under par with Spanish sensation Jon Rahm muscling his way to second and just a shot behind after also signing for a 67.
Rahm, who contested the first two rounds alongside McIlroy, capped his round with a fifth hole eagle.
World No. 2 Hideki Matsuyama, and the third member of the McIlroy’s group, was also in contention in adding a 68 to move to nine under par.
Also at nine under was fellow Japan golfer, Hideto Taninhara who produced a bogey free seven under par 65.