Spieth out in front at The Open
Jordan Spieth put some daylight between himself and his rivals for the Claret Jug when he moved into the outright lead on the second day of The 146th Open at Royal Birkdale.
With a round of 69, Spieth moved to six under par and opened a gap of two strokes over Matt Kuchar and three over Ian Poulter and Brooks Koepka.
In every sense this was the player who came to dominate the game in 2015 when, at just 21, he won the Masters Tournament and the US Open, came tied fourth at The Open, and moved to No.1 in the world.
It was the inward nine which set him apart. After bogeying the 9th and reaching the turn in 35, he saved par by chipping in at the 10th, rolled in a long birdie putt at the 11th, had a tap-in birdie at the par three 12th, and followed up with an eagle at the 15th.
If Spieth had a moment of good fortune it was an enforced break for torrential rain which allowed him, he said, to regroup after the 10th. After that the wind dropped and he took full advantage of the conditions.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’ll be feeling plenty of nerves heading into the weekend” he said. “But this is what we want to feel. It’s what you expect any time you’re in the last group in a major.”
Playing alongside Spieth was defending champion Henrik Stenson. The Swede is still in contention to secure back-to-back wins at The Open after he finished the day at two over par after a 73.
One of the most impressive performances of the week is that of Poulter. The 41-year-old Englishman came through Final Qualifying to claim a place in the field for Birkdale and he is seizing his chance with both hands.
A crowd favourite, he gave the home fans plenty to cheer in a round of 70 that moved him into a share of third place. He is plotting his way around the course like an orienteer and refuses to get ahead of himself. This is a case of one step at a time for the full 72 holes.
After six holes of the first round, Rory McIlroy had racked up five bogeys and was offering a perfect illustration of the golfing mantra: ‘You can’t win a championship on the first day, but you can lose one.’
It is to McIlroy’s credit that he fought back to finish the day on just one over par and then followed up on Friday with a round of 68 that moved him into red figures for the first time.
On one under par, the 2014 Champion Golfer of the Year is now poised to strike and has both Spieth and the Claret Jug within his sights. If he gets on a roll, he could take some stopping.
What a difference a year makes. Phil Mickelson, who came agonisingly close to the winning for a second time at Royal Troon in 2016, missed the cut after coming in with a pick-and-mix round of 77 that included one triple bogey, eight bogeys, four birdies and five pars. His game may have deserted him, but his humour hadn’t. “Unfortunately it’s the first cut I’ve missed this year and I missed it with flair,” he joked.
Among those to make the cut on five over par were Justin Rose, Jason Day, Lee Westwood, Danny Willett and Tommy Fleetwood.
One of the day’s highlights was Chris Wood’s eagle at the 18th that stole some of the thunder from his playing partner Mark O’Meara, the champion at Royal Birkdale in 1998. An emotional O’Meara waved goodbye to The Open for the last time, while Wood guaranteed his place in the field at the weekend by moving inside the cut line with that single shot.
What a day. What a finish.