Jordan Spieth is primed to join the list of Claret Jug winners – reckons a man who’s got his name on the famous trophy five times.
Tom Watson, whose triumph at Royal Birkdale in 1983 was the last of his quintuple of Open crowns, believes the two round leader’s mental toughness can see him through.
The eight-time major champion isn’t discounting the hopes of another American, US Open champion Brooks Koepka, and thinks spectators will see a slew of good scores with soft greens and better weather for the third round.
Asked who he saw as the likely winner, Watson, at Birkdale in his role as a Rolex brand ambassador, said: “I like Jordan. Koepka is right there too and I like both of them for a reason: Jordan for his short game, and Koepka his length. He’s able to control the ball and he is swinging very well.
“Even though he’s a newbie to links golf, I think he can manage this course. Today, the course will yield a lot of good scores.
“You know the conditions – soft, no wind and the players will finally get a breath. (It’s) ‘Now I can play American golf, basically. If you hit the ball on the green it’s going to stop. It’s not going to roll through the fairways. I can play the yardages’.
“The last two days you couldn’t play the yardages. You had to play by feel. That’s where the winds of links golf really change the game over here. Winds in America – you still can play by yardages.
“Over here, you play by feel when the wind is blowing so hard.”
His determination during those difficult conditions impressed the two-time Ryder Cup captain.
Watson added: “One of the things I love about Jordan is his mental toughness – the way he plays the game. It’s his enthusiasm first but his toughness not to let any shot slip. That’s what I like most about Jordan.
“He’s always able to make up for a mistake with his putter and his short game. People ask me why I won five Open Championships.
“First of all, there’s a lot of luck involved – Nick Price having the collapse he did at Troon and kind of letting me in the back door there, Hale Irwin whiffing a putt over here at 14 when I won at Birkdale in ’83.
“My short game and my putting – that was my strength. Look at Seve and the way he won from all over the golf course.
“There are some championships I really played well and others where I just kind of hung in there like a horse race and kept with the pack and then you try to nose out ahead.
“It takes toughness to do that, but that’s what Jordan has. That’s what I like about him.
“He’s very well grounded. He’s a mature man at an early age.”
“The players that become champions – there’s a lot more than just hitting the ball and putting,” Watson added. “It’s the ability to score and the short game is probably the biggest factor.
“They talked about me making Watson pars and Seve pars and there are Spieth pars.
“Look at the way he won his first tournament at the John Deere Classic. He holes it out of the bunker to win his first tournament. That was an omen for things to come. He continues to do it and you will still see him do it.
“That’s what is exciting about his play. You never know when that’s going to happen but you half expect it now when you watch him. Can he do it here?”
Tom Watson was speaking as a Rolex brand ambassador. Rolex is a Patron of the Open Championship celebrating 50 years in golf. For more information, visit rolex.com.