Spieth battles wind and rain for two-shot lead at Royal Birkdale
After rolling in another lengthy putt, this time for eagle, Jordan Spieth could only shake his head from beneath his umbrella and smile.
It all went right for Spieth for the second straight day at The Open, where he carefully crafted his way around Royal Birkdale with the precision of an experienced veteran and now leads the championship by two shots over Matt Kuchar.
Spieth held a share of the lead after an opening-round 65, and teeing off late in the afternoon he expected to encounter difficult conditions as storm clouds raced across the Southport links. But the stiff winds and intermittent rain that crushed the hopes of many were easily neutralized by Spieth, who authored a season’s worth of highlights within a single round.
“I thought even par was an 8-under round when I was sitting on the couch this morning,” Spieth said.
He managed to do one better, shooting a 1-under 69 that made him the only player in the 156-man field to break par both days at Royal Birkdale.
There was, of course, the eagle on No. 15, the result of a “mis-hit” fairway wood from the rough that still trundled onto the green from more than 250 yards away. But before that there was a near-ace at the 12th, a cross-country birdie on the 11th and a miracle chip-in to save par on No. 10.
Good things happen to good players, but they seem to happen with increasing frequency to Spieth.
“That could have easily been three or four shots difference over those three holes,” said playing partner Henrik Stenson. “If it’s your week and you’re going to be up there, a lot of times you need one of those kind of momentum keepers, and he certainly got that.”
Spieth admitted that his patience “wore a bit thin” around the turn, but chip-in pars can absolve a variety of sins. After getting blown out of the tournament by difficult conditions during his second round last year at Royal Troon, Spieth planned for the worst and capitalized where he could, especially during a brief window on the back nine when the winds abated.
“When the conditions went down a little bit, we could take advantage,” Spieth said. “And then I got up and down when necessary, or saved myself out of pot bunkers and wherever else I was when the conditions were tough.”
Spieth already has two majors to his credit, and he got within arm’s reach of the Claret Jug back in 2015 when he missed a playoff at St. Andrews by a single shot. While he insists the scars of his Masters collapse in 2016 have long since healed, he has not cracked the top 10 in a major since.
But if regression is on the horizon, the signs of it remain well-hidden. Stenson sees shades of the 2015 Masters, when the two played together for the first 36 holes and Spieth went on to win his first major title by four shots.
“He might not have played as well tee-to-green, but his flat stick has been working very much the same way,” Stenson said. “It’s certainly his putting that’s been on this week, and that’s why he’s in the lead, for sure. I think he’s definitely the man to beat over the weekend if he keeps on putting like that.”
For Spieth, the path to the Claret Jug still contains plenty of obstacles. While the weekend weather forecast doesn’t call for anything that approaches what he faced in the second round, bogeys and doubles loom around every corner at Royal Birkdale even on a calm day.
But through 36 holes, Spieth has relied on his gifted irons and leaned on a once-gilded putter. And they have proven to be more than enough to distance him from the field.
“Anytime you’re in the last group on the weekend in a major, and this is I think probably a dozen times I’ve had at least a share of the lead in a major championship, you get nervous,” Spieth said. “I’ll be feeling it this weekend a little bit, but I enjoy it. As long as I approach it positively and recognize that this is what you want to feel, because you’re in a position you want to be in, then the easier it is to hit solid shots and to create solid rounds.”