Spieth opens with flawless 65 at Birkdale
Chomping furiously on a piece of gum and walking often with his hands in his pockets, Jordan Spieth appeared in the midst of a casual round.
But instead he spent his morning surgically dissecting one of the most difficult venues on The Open rota.
Spieth was clinical with his approach shots and made a number of clutch putts, working his way around Royal Birkdale without dropping a single shot. His 5-under 65 was two shots off the all-time Open record at the Southport links and gave him a share of the lead alongside Matt Kuchar and U.S. Open champ Brooks Koepka.
After going 72 holes without a single bogey-free round the last time The Open was here in 2008, Spieth turned in a flawless scorecard before much of the field had even begun the championship.
“It’s a gettable golf course if you’re controlling your ball off the tee. You’re able to hit the ball to the middle of the greens, and they’re not too severe,” Spieth said. “We tried to keep our head down today. Stole one at No. 2, and then got it going around the turn.”
Spieth was wayward off the tee several times Thursday, but he paid no penalty for his inaccuracy. Part of that was the fortuitous rub of the green that links golf can often afford, but more often it was Spieth making up ground with iron in hand. He leads the PGA Tour this season on approach shots to the green, and that strength was on full display during an opening round where he found only five fairways but hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation.
The two-time major champ has been close to the Claret Jug before, tying for fourth at St. Andrews in 2015 when his bid for the single-season Grand Slam was derailed by the slimmest of margins. His opener at Royal Birkdale was the third time in his career he has fired a 65 in a major, and it was one better than his third-round effort on the Old Course two years ago.
The gum he gnawed on during the opening round was a late addition from swing coach Cameron McCormick, and after a surprise birdie on the second hole Spieth opted to rely on superstition and kept the same piece in his mouth for the rest of the round.
McCormick was also responsible for some last-minute preparation, using a TrackMan device with Spieth prior to a tournament round for the first time in order to gauge the effect the weather conditions might have on his shots.
"Cameron brought it out today to see how much the 55-degree weather was affecting my speed versus 90 (degrees) at home, which is what we were doing last week," Spieth said. "I was hitting it 10 to 15 yards shorter without any wind factored in, and then the wind was affecting it another 20 to 30 yards on the range, pretty much through the bag."
Spieth entered this week fresh off a victory last month at the Travelers Championship, where he holed a bunker shot to win in a playoff. He needed no such theatrics Thursday, but instead relied on a barrage of accurate approaches into greens that historically have proven more difficult to hit than any other venue on The Open rota.
He may be lacking some buzz, more than two years removed from his pair of major victories, but he proved Thursday why he was considered by many to be the pre-tournament favorite.
“I’ve experienced being an underdog and a favorite so many times in my career thus far that I don’t think about it at this point,” Spieth said. “I’m going out there with a goal and a game plan in mind, and trying to execute.”
While Spieth avoided much of the blustery weather during his opening round, the forecast indicates things may prove more difficult for him Friday afternoon with rain and crosswinds expected. But given that 3 over and even par were the winning scores of The Open each of the last two times it came to Birkdale, he is cognizant of the fact that a strong opener has given him a leg up on much of the field.
“We experienced that the last couple years, so I know a little of what to expect, which could bode well for us,” Spieth said. “We don’t know what we’re going to get these days, so there’s a good chance that where I’m at right now could be plenty good enough to win, and par might become a good score.”