Will we ever learn? Never underestimate Jordan SpiethJuly 21, 2018 Opinion
The defending champion has the chance to write his name into the Open history books. But why he is so underrated, asks Steve Carroll?
It’s the final round of an Open. A firm and bouncy course swept by the kind of winds that sends chills even into the hearts of the locals.
Raise your hands if you want to go up against Jordan Spieth. Anyone? Thought not.
Harrington, Woods, Watson, Trevino, Palmer, Thompson, Locke. What a list – the only players since the Second World War who’ve managed to win a Claret Jug and then hold on to it.
Spieth now has the chance to join them.
And yet he’s spent much of the year on the defensive, fending off questions about the malaise in his game, and fighting the doubters.
The incredible putting streak was over. He had a confidence problem. “What’s wrong with Jordan Spieth?” screamed the headlines.
Why do we do it? Why do we underestimate him?
What we always forget about the Texan, who may become the youngest player since Tom Morris Jr to successfully defend their title, is that he has a resolve and determination unmatched since Tiger Woods in his prime.
He’s the most agitated player in the field – twitching, edgy and giving off the impression his game’s about to melt at any moment.
He’s not easy on the eye like Rory McIlroy, or a technician like Justin Rose. But he’s got the best mind in golf.
It’s forged by a granite will, an ability to overcome the kind of misfortune that has sunk many a challenge, and a refusal to lose.
It won him The Open last year. It got him within touching distance at Augusta in April – when his play really needed life-saving surgery. It could now deliver a fourth major championship.
Those amazing events at Birkdale, the manner with which the last few holes played out, could again be a pivotal factor tomorrow.
For they have changed Spieth’s mindset in the major arena.
“I don’t feel like I have to prove anything at this point anymore,” he said after his 65 saw him vault to the top of the leaderboard with flatmate Kevin Kisner.
“I’m playing golf for me. I have a clear mind and have made a lot of progress over the year.
“This has been an off year, a building year, and I’ve got the chance to make it a very memorable one but it’s not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.
“What’s four versus three?”
Spieth ranked his latest efforts round Carnoustie in the top five of his career.
It began with a scintialling eagle after he drove the opening hole – a decision he only made on the way to the tee – but it had nerve to it as well.
A gutsy up and down from a bunker on 12 and a birdie on 14 after a wayward drive were just two eye-catching features.
Who’d love to be a fly on the wall for the dinner chat in the house where Spieth, Kisner and Zach Johnson are bunking down?
“I’ll probably ask chef to try it before – make him eat it just in case Kiz is greasing them,” the Texan quipped.
But it may be Tiger, rather than what’s on the menu, that will send Spieth’s temperatures rising with excitement.
He admitted he has dreamed of going head-to-head with Woods down the stretch in a major – “I played it out in Augusta in my head”.
Carnoustie will have to do, after the 14-time major champions’ 66 left him four shots off the lead.
“The way he is striking those 2 and 3 irons he is really going to be in it tomorrow, which is really exciting for us.
“I’ve always wanted to battle it out and have a major with Tiger. It’s kind of a dream come true just to have the opportunity.”
But worryingly for the GOAT, and for the rest of the field, is the realisation that Spieth may have slayed his demons.
Those hard times were important to bear, he has reasoned, and have given him a cheat sheet to fall back on when rounds threaten to come undone.
That’s already helped him this week, when a clumsy spell on the first day saw a fine start turn into a one over 72, while holding it together when fairways seemed so hard to find on day two.
He explained: “It allowed me to figure out, when I’m off, where the keys are to get over it – where the triggers are when the nerves come up and the tension comes up and why.
“In the future I will be able to kick it back into gear a little quicker and be able to compensate a little bit better.”
If he’s learned, maybe we should take the hint too. Let’s never overlook Jordan Spieth again.