Martin Dempster: Open may rain on Spieth’s parade

Tommy Fleetwood: Good record. Picture: PA
Tommy Fleetwood: Good record. Picture: PA
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THERE’S been plenty of sunshine on Spieth over the past few weeks but precious little on St Andrews. The Old Course is greener than an environment convention since a flash flood hit the Fife town a week past Saturday and has been followed by varying spells of rain over the past 11 days.

“We were going along pretty nicely until we had an immense amount of rainfall that Saturday morning,” said Peter Dawson, who is overseeing his 16th and final Open Championship as R&A chief executive. “The place was awash, so any thought of getting a hard-running brown links disappeared.”

I would have liked tougher practice conditions to get used to the wind

Jordan Spieth

With more wet stuff to come, not to mention winds gusting to up to 40mph and possibly exceeding that, Mother Nature is going to be the 157th player in the field for an event in which the winner shall become the first Open champion to pick up a £1 million prize as well as the Claret Jug.

The prospect of blowy conditions – the wind is being predicted to be at its strongest tomorrow but also likely to be on the stiff side for the weekend – has surely got to be detrimental to Jordan Spieth as the 21-year-old American bids to edge a step closer to golf’s first Grand Slam in the one season.

Based on what he’s achieved so far this year, winning The Masters wire to wire, then showing remarkable mental toughness for one so young to come out on top in a draining US Open examination at Chambers Bay, the Texan is the rightful favourite coming in here. He’d still have been the man to beat probably, if defending champion Rory McIlroy hadn’t ruled himself out with his football injury.

What has worked against Spieth since he arrived in Scotland on Monday is that he hasn’t played the course in the conditions he’s going to encounter over the next four days. Yesterday, for example, it was flat calm as he played his final practice round in the company of two fellow Americans, Brooks Koepka and JB Holmes, as well as 
Australian Matt Jones.

“I would have liked to have seen tougher conditions in the practice rounds to get used to prevailing winds and wind switches,” said Spieth himself, his only other experience of the grand ‘Old Lady’ having been four years ago en route to Royal Aberdeen for the Walker Cup. “We’ve had perfect weather (the rain apart, obviously) so far, so it seems a little easier than I think it will play.”

Before coming here, he used a video simulator to get used to “start lines” for shots. The “real preparation” has centred on controlling the trajectory with approaches into the giant Old Course greens with all their humps and hollows. “I’ve been working a lot on being comfortable hitting a punch shot in case 40 mile-an-hour winds are into you, as well as hitting the high ball into the greens if you need to get to a pin that doesn’t have much room to work with.”

Just as impressive as Spieth’s talent – he’s been a star in the making since shooting a 62 when he was 12 – is an amazing attitude that led one wise sage in the Media Centre here to liken him to the totally unflappable Roger Federer. He certainly can’t be discounted, therefore, in the 29th Open Championship at St Andrews and 144th in total and what a storyline it would set up if Spieth, with a Claret Jug added to his title collection this year, was heading to Whistling Straits next month for the US PGA Championship with history in his hands.

It seems more likely, though, that this week’s winner will be someone that is better acquainted with this particular venue. Two-times St Andrews winner Tiger Woods? Surely not, though it will be intriguing to see if he has, in fact, turned a corner.

For me, the Dunhill Links Championship, which is partly played on the Old Course, could well be the best indicator this week. Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, for instance, is a combined 41-under-par for eight rounds on this layout while South African Louis Oosthuizen has played six rounds on it in 27-under-par since his Claret Jug victory here in 2010. The likes of Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel and Shane Lowry also have recent form at this venue.

If the weather forecast is right, a late-early start is what’s ideally needed on the first two days. That’s another hurdle for Spieth to overcome but it could help the likes of Kaymer, Fleetwood, Adam Scott, Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler.