Jordan Spieth shot a five-under 65 at Royal Birkdale to share the first-round lead with his fellow Americans Brooks Koepka and Matt Kuchar
Jordan Spieth waited 467 days for this. The truth is, so had the rest of us.
There have been few more painful episodes in athletic including for spectators who retain even an ounce of compassion than Spieths late capitulation at the 2016 Masters. For all the analysis and introspection that followed, one thing has been missing: Spieth placing himself securely in position to win another major championship. How would he handle it? Would glory matter more than previously? Did that Georgian affair irrevocably damage Spieths ability to close out on the big stage?
The broader image, of a curious run involving seven successive first-time major champs, is that golf would surely have benefited from this brilliant young Texan endorsing earlier flirting with greatness by dominating his sport.
Shortly after 1pm on this, the opening round of the 146 th Open Championship, Spieth sat atop the leaderboard once more. There are 54 pits to play yet it is hardly unnatural to fast forward to Sunday, to the death throes of this event, and the tantalising prospect of Spieth exorcising some Augusta demons. Or, dare one suggest it, otherwise. The 23 -year-old has an itch to scratch in this major, too, having fallen just a shot outside a play-off position in the Open of 2015.
Spieths criteria are high. His analysis of this Open start of 65 was therefore telling. Everything was strong, he said. I devote it a nine out of 10 across the board for everything: tee balls, ball-striking, short game and putting. So things are in check. Its just about maintaining it consistent.
This round could be a lot more significant in three days day than I would consider it right now. Id call it a top five, likely, major round that Ive played. There are scores that Ive shot that were closer to par that were better devoted what I needed to do. But I couldnt have done significantly greater today.
By the conclusion of day one, Spieth had been joined at five under par by his compatriots Brooks Koepka and Matt Kuchar. It would be unwise to discount Koepka in particular from this Open equation, devoted his terrific performance last month when claiming the US equivalent. It is scarcely an insult to Koepka to suggest his obvious refusal to overanalyse or even analyse on the golf course carries huge benefit.
There were indications that Spieth may have been building towards Birkdale. In his last professional act before the Open, he holed out from a bunker to win the Travelers Championship. Spieths confidence was further endorsed by his decision to take a holiday thereafter. He landed on Merseyside not only freshened but buoyed by the tangible reward his performances earlier in 2017 threatened rather than promised.
Spieth was wise enough to point out he likely had to make hay while the sun, literally, shine. Excellent conditions on Thursday, aside from an early morning spell during which a squall conjured memories of 2008 here, are likely to be offset by breeze and rain throughout day two. I thought todays round was extremely important, Spieth told. Devoted the forecast coming in, I thought you really needed to be in the red today.
Two moments of Spieth magic on Thursday stood out. A chip to within tap-in distance of the 10 th hole from dense rough was sublime. Even better followed on the 16 th, where the two-times major champion produced an outstanding endeavor from a downhill lie in a greenside bunker to again permit a par save.
Paul Caseys 66 leaves him in a perfect position for a serious run at the major win that has thus far evaded him. Casey will celebrate his 40 th birthday on the Opens second day. The Englishman has that batch of first-time winners as a reference point should, and it seems unlikely, he require further incentive.
The Open has never been the major Ive fared the best at, Casey said. I seem to have fought, apart from St Andrews in 2010. My results havent been good but I feel really good about this week.
I dont know why, perhaps Im more in love with connects golf than I was before. Certainly this course helps, I really like this course. Im not putting that much pressure on myself but very much was intended to win it.
Ian Poulter, who could complete a golfing fairytale by progressing from final qualifying to the rostrum, signed for a 67. Justin Thomas sported a collar and tie-in for Thursday, the various kinds of move that would lead to ridicule if not backed up by a proper prove. Thomas duly matched Poulters score, as did Richard Bland, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Charley Hoffman and Austin Connelly.
Rory McIlroy was in a tailspin when five over par after merely six holes. The Northern Irishman saved par from distance on the 8th in a moment that appear to trigger an upturn in confidence. A 71 to start, in context, represented quite an accomplishment with McIlroys body language alone notably positive during post-round media duties. It would be folly to discount him from the tournament at this crossroad. If McIlroy did not have the heart or the ability to contend, there was ample opportunity to throw in the towel.
The problem for McIlroy, and others, is Spieths prominence. The sense of intimacy was, for once, a welcome one.
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