Open: Third step to Grand Slam awaits Jordan Spieth

Jordan Spieth gets a feel for the first green on the Old Course during his practice round at St Andrews yesterday. Picture: AP
Jordan Spieth gets a feel for the first green on the Old Course during his practice round at St Andrews yesterday. Picture: AP
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MAN of the moment Jordan Spieth sent a chilling warning to his rivals heading into this week’s Open Championship by insisting there’s still more to come even though he has produced a sparkling run of form to stand on the verge of toppling Rory McIlroy as world No 1.

The 21-year-old warmed up for his crack at becoming just the second player after Ben Hogan, who achieved the feat in 1953, to win the season’s first three majors by claiming the John Deere Classic in Illinois on Sunday, beating fellow American Tom Gillis in a play-off after overcoming a four-shot deficit with six to play.

It was Spieth’s third success in nine events – he sparked that hot streak by winning The Masters wire-to-wire in April before adding the US Open last month – and the absent McIlroy will be dethroned as the game’s top-ranked player on Sunday if the wave the American is riding on sees him become Open champion as well.

It’s a tall order, of course. For starters, the Texan has only played the Old Course in a bounce game as a member of the American team’s preparations for the 2011 Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen. He is also trying to succeed where four others – Craig Wood, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods – all failed after they won The Masters and US Open but were unable to take the third step towards a calendar Grand Slam.

However, anything seems possible for Spieth at the moment and he was certainly feeling bullish about his prospects in the 144th staging of the world’s oldest major before 
joining 20 other players on a special charter to Edinburgh. “I love where my putting is at,” said Spieth as he savoured a second success in the John Deere event, having also won it two years ago to secure his Open debut at Muirfield. “My pace control and my speed is awesome right now. I’m obviously going to have to adjust to the greens over there, but it’s great to know that a strength this year has been my first putts, leaving myself a good length for the next one.

“I’ll take that momentum to St Andrews, where I will work on my driver. It is really good on the range. But on the golf course when there’s trouble in play, I’m getting a little steep. I’m not getting all the way around, and therefore at the top of my swing my club’s not pointed at the target. I’m hitting it where my club’s pointed, but that’s pretty far to the right. So I’ve got some work to do because the driver is a very important club at St Andrews. More than many other golf courses.

“I also really need to fine tune my full swings with an iron. When I go hard at the ball, it seems to be there. It’s the ones where I have to take something off of it that I’m really struggling with. I hit some horrid iron shots this week when I had to take some off of it. And that’s the definition of what you do over there when the wind picks up. When the conditions are bad, you’ve got to hit three-quarter pinch shots and be able to control those and have great distance control. And I don’t have that yet, so I need to get over there and work with my coach to find the solution. I’m going to have a lot of repetitions with my longer clubs this week.”

Determined to focus on this week and not allow himself to start thinking about the possibility of becoming the first player to win all four majors in the one season, it sounds as though Spieth believes his chances of adding the Claret Jug to this year’s impressive trophy collection have been enhanced by the Old Course being lush rather than fast and running due to recent rain. “I’ve heard that it’s playing softer than usual and that’s nice for someone coming straight from a PGA Tour course,” he noted, having seen his odds trimmed to 13-2 – Dustin Johnston is next on that particular list at 12-1 followed by Rickie Fowler at 16-1 – with one bookmaker on the back of his latest success.

“I’m excited to get there. It’s yielded very low scores and that’s why I think it is advantageous to feel like you’re making a lot of birdies. Feeling like that, you can maybe be a little more aggressive than you would normally be starting a major championship.

“But I think it all depends on getting over there and establishing a game plan because when I played it three-and-a-half years ago, I was in very much a different position and could take more chances. So I’ve got to learn to pick my spots.”

In a week when the spotlight is going to be firmly on him, Spieth is going to have to be able to back up his claim that “I’ve got plenty in the tank”. There is a growing feeling in the game, though, that this kid, like Hogan, Palmer, Nicklaus, Woods and McIlroy, is indeed the “Real Deal”.

“He has the best attitude I have ever seen in any player,” claimed CBS commentator David Feherty. “He couldn’t be more of a saint for the game of golf if his name was Andrew.”