From Bleacher Report:
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — His strength is putting. He said so himself. But with the second round of the British Open full of rain, wind and a tiny bit of controversy, Jordan Spieth may have three-putted his way out of a chance for history.
Eight times over 18 holes that took two days and arguably may have taken Spieth out of his quest for golf’s Grand Slam—although he disagrees—Spieth needed three putts to get the ball into the hole.
And now, halfway through the 144th Open, a tournament that because of all-too-typical Scottish conditions—people around say they don’t have a climate, they have weather—has been extended until Monday, Spieth is five shots out of the lead.
Yes, the leader of the pack is Dustin Johnson, whom Spieth beat by a stroke in last month’s U.S. Open, when Spieth birdied the 72nd hole and Johnson three-putted for par. But St. Andrews, where the ball rolls on hard fairways, is a course made for Johnson, arguably the longest hitter on the PGA Tour.
Still, with the confidence of a golfer who won the Masters and U.S. Open, and for good measure last weekend’s John Deere Classic, Spieth said purposefully, “I believe I’m still in contention. I still believe I can win this tournament.”
Golf is different than other sports. In baseball, you keep all runs you score, and the other team has to catch up. In golf, however, a player can lose strokes—and another can gain them while still in the clubhouse. If the golfer in first bogies the first two holes, say, a two-shot margin is no more.
The 1966 U.S. Open was a long time ago, but it involved two of the greats, Arnold Palmer and Billy Casper. Palmer had a six-shot lead with six holes to play the last day at San Francisco’s Olympic Club. And after Casper picked up two shots at the 15th (birdie-bogey) and two more at the 16th (birdie-bogey), the round was tied. Casper won in a playoff.
Every golfer is aware of how quickly fortunes can change and leads can disappear—dare we mention Greg Norman blowing that six-shot lead the last round in the 1996 Masters?—and so the thought is that anything is possible, including catching Dustin Johnson.
“I need a really solid round (Sunday), though,” said Spieth, “because Dustin is not letting up. He’s the only one I can speak of, he and Hideki (Matsuyama) because I saw it firsthand.” Spieth was grouped with Johnson and Matsuyama the first two rounds.
“To fall from two back to five back isn’t exactly what I wanted on a Friday,” said Spieth, “but it could have been worse, could have been better. It is what it is, and if I can shoot something like 10 under in the last two rounds, I think I’ll have a chance to win.”
Ten under is exactly what Johnson has shot the first two rounds. So the score is attainable. Would a great Spieth round have an effect on Johnson? Spieth stuffed it in for birdie on the 18th at the U.S. Open in June, and while standing right there, Johnson three-putted from 12 feet for par—and a loss.
Johnson said his mind is clear, that what happened in the Open is over and done with. But if Spieth is thinking he can catch Johnson, Johnson surely has to be thinking Spieth indeed can catch him. There’s a man with two majors in succession and a man without any majors.
Is Jordan Spieth too far back from leader Dustin Johnson to win the 2015 British Open?
Golf is wonderfully unpredictable. It isn’t Djokovic against Federer or the Patriots against the Seahawks. A golfer can’t control the others in the field, but he can control his own emotions. Spieth has learned how to win. It’s unfair to say Johnson has learned how to lose, but he has allowed majors to get away.
Spieth, Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen and numerous others who couldn’t finish their rain-delayed second round on Friday returned for a 7 a.m. start Saturday. The wind was wild, and at 7:32 a.m. local time, play was suspended. For some 11 hours, Spieth was heard on ESPN saying, “We never should have started.”
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club, which administrates The Open, is desperate to get the world’s oldest tournament to an end. Already it’s been extended to a Monday finish for the first time since 1988. Spieth’s dismay is understandable, as is the R&A’s attempt to play in proper order.
“You know, we just have to stick it out,” Spieth conceded after he stuck it out. “Obviously it was frustration taking over. I had just three-putted. It was just a tricky situation, and it was unfortunate for the R&A. I believe there was nothing they could do differently.”
What Spieth could have done differently was hole those putts. Five shots isn’t that much with two rounds to go.
Art Spander is a winner of the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism from the PGA of America. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.