Spieth seeks to rekindle major magic at Royal Birkdale
Coming off a memorable win in his most recent start, Jordan Spieth is once again brimming with confidence as he looks to add his name to the illustrious list of winners on the Claret Jug.
But in order to do so, he’ll need to translate the success he has had through the first half of the year onto a major stage.
Spieth has won twice in 2017, including last month at the Travelers Championship where he holed a bunker shot on the first playoff hole. He has also contended on a number of other occasions and enters this week ranked No. 3 in the world.
But Spieth’s runner-up finish at the 2016 Masters remains his most recent top-10 finish in a major. It’s a trend that hasn’t kept him from viewing his season in a positive light, and one that he hopes to reverse this week at The Open as he takes on Royal Birkdale for the first time.
“If you don’t necessarily have a major each year it’s disappointing, for sure. That’s where your legacy is left; that’s where you’re really trying to go down in history," Spieth said. "But it’s already been a really good year. With a couple of wins and a second, a couple of thirds, we’ve been up there. And I like a lot of things we haven’t been able to do in the past, especially tee-to-green."
Spieth made his mark on the greens during his magical 2015 season, and as a result he is viewed in certain circles as a player whose success is dictated by his putter. But that’s hardly the case this season, as he leads the PGA Tour in strokes gained on approach to the green.
What once was his greatest strength is now in some ways holding him back, but the improvements Spieth has made to his iron game have been critical to his recent success.
"I’ve struck the ball better than I did in ’15. I’ve actually been in better position,” Spieth said. “If you look hole by hole, I’ve been in a better position tee-to-green than I was that year. If I putted the same as ’15, I’d be having a better year right now. But it’s hard to do."
Spieth has a chance to shift the narrative on his season this week along the English coast, where he will make his fifth appearance in The Open. His bid for the single-season Grand Slam was derailed by the slimmest of margins two years ago at St. Andrews, where he tied for fourth.
While Spieth has made the cut in each of his other three Open starts, he hasn’t finished inside the top 25 other than his performance on the Old Course. He explained Tuesday that he feels The Open is in some ways the easiest major to win simply because the unpredictability of the tee time draw can often eliminate a large swath of the field – even though he was one of the players impacted by adverse weather last year at Royal Troon.
“It’s very frustrating, especially when you feel like you’re in form and it really makes that much of a difference, because it’s that much harder,” he said. “I think that’s the most frustrating part about this tournament, getting through the first couple of days, from my experience. Because if you’re on the good end, you almost put that kind of pressure on yourself, ‘Hey, I need to jump out ahead.’ And so it’s a mind game that you play with yourself there."
Of course, Spieth isn’t the only top-ranked player heading to the Southport links with momentum on his side. Brooks Koepka is making his first start since his breakthrough at last month’s U.S. Open, while Jon Rahm had a week off to bask in the glow of his six-shot romp at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open. Rafael-Cabrera Bello, Bryson DeChambeau and Xander Schauffele all also won in their most recent start.
But given the pair of major trophies Spieth earned in 2015, he’s still viewed in a different light from much of his competition – a status he’s not shying away from as he gets set to renew the quest for his first Open title.
“Last year I was pretty caught up in 2015, and this year I’m not,” Spieth said. “This year I recognize that that kind of year, hopefully we can have another one or two like that. But if we keep on trying to improve each part of the game, stick to the process, then we’ll have the results that we want.”