STANDING on the ninth green, a bogey scratching a big scar over his scorecard, Jordan Spieth couldn’t mask his annoyance. He had set out in search of birdies and had cashed in on three opportunities but that missed putt cancelled out one of them.
“Walking off of 9 green was as frustrated as I’ve been in a tournament other than off of 14 yesterday morning [when the weather conditions wrought havoc],” he said. “I don’t normally ever display frustration. I did both times. I couldn’t hold it in. I think I punched my golf bag. I wasn’t going to break a club or anything or throw a club, and I didn’t want to hit Michael [his caddie], so I figured I’d hit my golf bag. To be at 2-under at that point when the front nine is gettable and it’s as easy as the conditions get, I was extremely frustrated.”
Releasing some of the pent-up emotion was obviously therapeutic as the 21-year-old’s putting clicked into place and he navigated the back nine not only bogey free for the first time this week, but with more birdies than he had amassed over that same stretch in the previous two rounds combined and headed for the clubhouse in relaxed and jocular form to card a 66 and wrap things up just one shot behind the leaders, on 11-under going into the final day.
It must have helped having someone like Sergio Garcia alongside. Playing well and in convivial spirits, as he completed his round tied for sixth, three shots from the top of the leaderboard, and it was his supporters supplying plenty of light-hearted moments as they “ole, ole, ole-d” the popular Spaniard from hole to hole.
He contributed himself as his enthusiasm got the better of him on the Road Hole, stepping up to tee off ahead of Spieth before he realised he had jumbled the order and gave way to his playing partner with an infectious chuckle.
A player who has never won the tournament, that humour combined with his heart-on-his-sleeve tussles with the links courses in what he considers the biggest major of them all has long-since endeared Garcia to British fans, indeed golf aficionados the world over. A game that tries the patience of mere mortals, they can relate to his highs and lows in a way they cannot comprehend – perhaps even secretly resent – the genius of a relative newcomer like Spieth. The American may already be a star but he still has to earn his stripes.
While the massed ranks of the media were inside the ropes to witness Spieth’s attempt to edge ever closer to a moment of history, in the stands and lining the route, it was Garcia who proved the bigger draw if the vocal encouragement and cheers can be considered an accurate gauge. With two major wins already in the bag this year, it must have been novel for Spieth to scuttle around almost in the shadows, able to get on with his business, the only pressure that which he constantly places on himself.
He is well aware that he stands on the banks of something special. Winning all three of the first majors of the year is a feat only achieved once before, by Ben Hogan in 1953, and he wants to equal it. Heck, he makes no bones about the fact he wants to eclipse it. While Tiger has held all four of the majors at once, he didn’t win them all in the same calendar year. Spieth wants to keep hopes alive of becoming the first player in history to do that. For that opportunity to present itself he must first weigh in with another top-quality round today and win his first Claret Jug and a place next to Hogan in the golfing anuls.
“It hasn’t come up in my head while I’ve been playing yet,” said Spieth. “I can’t speak for tomorrow given it’s the last round. But if I have a chance coming down the stretch, if it creeps in, I’ll embrace it. I’ll embrace the opportunity that presents itself. I don’t look at it as a negative thing, I look at it almost as an advantage. It just makes me feel like this is something that’s a little more special, let’s go ahead and get the job done. I see it as something that’s only been done once before, and it was a long time ago. I think that to be in that category, that opportunity very rarely comes around.
“I’d also like to have a chance to do something nobody has ever done, and so if I think about it that way, then I just want it a little bit more tomorrow, to be able to try and go into the last major and accomplish something that’s never been done in our sport is something that only comes around to a couple of people ever, and I’d like to be one of those people to have that happen. That’s just going to go into my fight. I do recognise what’s at stake, and for me to accomplish that feat is going to be to simplify things and to just go about our business.”
Given he won’t be in the last group out today, he says he won’t snatch too many glances at the leaderboard. The approach has always been to simply play his game. That served him well at Augusta and at Chambers Bay, finding the consistency and the shots to emerge at the top of the heap.
For many, an Open win is the be all and end all. For Spieth it is a vital part in a jigsaw. But it is a piece he would treasure. After all, St Andrews is a place that lends itself to history like no other venue in golf. Winning here would earn him one of the greatest ovations the sport can offer, as he heads down the 18th on the final day, but might not be enough to earn him cult status. If he consults past greats, he will discover that kind of affection cannot usually be bought simply with trophies on these shores, it tends to come only with time.