- Senior golf writer for ESPN.com
- Covered golf for more than 20 years
- Earned Evans Scholarship to attend Indiana University
SANDWICH, England — Jordan Spieth has been near the top of leaderboards since February, so it makes sense he’s in that position after his opening round at The Open.
But Spieth wasn’t so sure that would be the case at Royal St. George’s. Due to a hectic spring schedule, he elected to take some time off after the U.S. Open, a decision he lamented as The Open approached at a course he’d never played.
That appeared to be of little concern Thursday as Spieth opened the tournament with a 5-under-par 65.
“That was kind of my one concern, I think, coming in here,” Spieth said after making six birdies and a bogey to trail clubhouse leader Louis Oosthuizen by 1 stroke. “I felt pretty good about the work that I had done over the last, say, week and a half or so. But when you haven’t played for a little while, you come into a difficult track, you can have a bit of rust early, and I was a little bit concerned about that.
“I think midway through the front nine today, kind of turning under par was just big to feel like, ‘Hey, we’re in the thick of things.’ There’s just a little extra nerves when you’re not coming off the week before, just getting started. [I] hit some really good shots early in the round today, which I think was important.”
After a bogey at the third hole, Spieth birdied four straight — starting with the fifth — and made the turn in 32. He added two more birdies on the final nine holes to shoot the seventh round of his career in major championships in the 60s — bettered only by Tiger Woods (10), Jack Nicklaus (nine), Tom Watson (nine) and Dustin Johnson (eight).
Of his last 13 rounds in the majors, Spieth has four 65s and nine rounds total in the 60s.
And for all the angst about Spieth’s game in recent years, he still managed to have some success in the major championships.
Prior to winning the Valero Texas Open the week before the Masters this year, Spieth had not won since the 2017 Open at Royal Birkdale. He finished third at the 2018 Masters (after a final-hole bogey when he needed a birdie to tie), was the 54-hole co-leader at Carnoustie in 2018 (he made no birdies in the final round and tied for ninth) and tied for third at the 2019 PGA.
“I look back and I had a chance to win at least one of the majors each year when I felt like I had no idea where the ball was going, which could be bad and good,” Spieth said. “Golf is a game played between the ears, right? When it’s not going great, you can certainly lose quite a bit of confidence in it, and that was the first time I’ve had to really try and build confidence back up. And it takes time.
“It’s a combination of obviously getting things figured out mechanically but also then putting it to the test and mentally stepping up with enough oomph to go ahead and pull off some shots, and that’s how you build the confidence, [by] using that improvement I think physically on the course under pressure.
“By no means do I feel like I’m where I want to be mechanically yet, but this year has been a really, really good progression for me, and that’s all I’m trying to do is just get a little bit better each day.”
It was a solid day for Spieth. He hit nine of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens in regulation and needed just 27 putts.
That’s pretty good for a guy who had so many instances of hitting the ball all over the place during his prolonged time away from the winner’s circle.
But since missing the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open, Spieth, 27, has turned his game around. Starting with a tie for fourth at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Spieth had seven top-15 finishes in eight tournaments, highlighted by his win at the Valero and a tie for third at the Masters. After a tie for 30th at the PGA Championship, he finished second at the Charles Schwab Challenge.
“I like where I’m at,” Spieth said. “Again, I feel like I was progressing nicely. Took a couple steps back really on the weekend at Colonial [Charles Schwab] through the U.S. Open, and I know what it was now and tried to put in some good work over the last few weeks to … forward it from where I was already progressing.”
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