Spieth’s Grand Slam Journey Comes to St. Andrews
By Burt Carey
When Jordan Spieth tees off Thursday on the OId Course in St. Andrews, Scotland, it will mark only the fifth time in golf history that a player arrives with the first two major championships won in a calendar year, vying for his third.
The 21-year-old Texan will have to tame the infamous winds of St. Andrews to win the Open Championship and maintain his shot of winning all four majors in a year.
Five players in the modern golf era have won the first two majors in a given year. Ben Hogan did it at the age of 38 in 1951. He was followed by Arnold Palmer in 1953. A 32-year-old Jack Nicklaus accomplished the feat in 1972, and in 2002 a young phenom named Tiger Woods carried the Masters and U.S. Open championships into the Open at age 26. With his Masters victory in April and a U.S. Open title at Chambers Bay in June, Spieth has already stepped into rarified company. He’s the youngest U.S. Open champion since Bobby Jones in 1923.
Winning the first two majors of the year is so rare that not even the current world’s No. 1, Rory McIlroy, has done it. Add to the list other giants of the game: Phil Mickelson, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Sam Snead, Lee Trevino, Gary Player and Tom Watson.
With a win at the John Deere Classic last week, Spieth has four wins this season and 11 top 10 finishes in the 18 events he’s played. His 3,628 FedEx Cup points not only leads the PGA standings, the total nearly doubles the 1,915 points of No. 2 on the list, Jimmy Walker. Spieth has played his last 20 rounds of competitive golf at 56 under par. Such dominance has commentators, media, pro golfers and fans alike watching every stroke and putt Spieth makes in his quest for immortality.
Winning the Claret Jug this week would also vault Spieth into the No. 1 spot in the World Golf Rankings, a position currently held by McIlroy, who would have been one of the favorites to win the Open Championship had he not withdrawn because of an ankle injury suffered two weeks ago playing soccer.
Spieth will play the first two rounds alongside two familiar opponents: Dustin Johnson, whose three putts on the 72nd hole of the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay sealed Spieth’s second major victory, and Hideki Matsuyama, who hasn’t won on the PGA Tour this year but has eight top 10 finishes. Earlier this year Spieth was grouped with Matsuyama for the first two rounds of the Farmer’s Insurance Open, and he played with Johnson in the first three rounds of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Oddsmakers have made Spieth the early favorite to win in St. Andrews despite the fact he’s recorded just one round as a teenager on the Old Course. He’s used a simulator to hone his game for the links course in golf’s most-storied venue, which is typically dry and brown in most summers but appears lush and green this week due to recent rains.
Spieth’s caddie, former teacher Michael Greller, also comes to St. Andrews with a bit of swagger. Based on the traditional 10 percent cut touring pros pay their caddies, Greller has accumulated $867,000 this year – more than 159 PGA pros on tour.
On television, ESPN will carry coverage of the Open Championship from 4 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Eastern) on Thursday and Friday, 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, and 6 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Fans can also see live streaming of featured groups and the Road Hole during those same hours on http://espn.go.com/.