TROON, Scotland – Having been in contention in five of the last six major championships, Jordan Spieth knows what Sunday pressure is like. Just not on a Friday.
Fighting his swing and the roughest stretch of weather this week, Spieth played his last six holes on Friday afternoon in even par at Royal Troon to stitch together a tepid four-over-par 75 that was just good enough to make the cut. Spieth, 22, will begin his third round on Saturday 14 strokes behind leader Phil Mickelson after posting four-over 146. He looked relieved rather than disappointed or annoyed.
Rain accompanied winds that gusted to 35 miles per hour, the strongest of the day, to present a vastly different test to afternoon competitors than the one encountered by earlier starters. The luck of the draw is more pronounced in this championship with tee times extending from 6:35 a.m. to 4:16 p.m.
“We might have caught the rough end of the draw. That happens,” a resigned Spieth said through a forced smile. “Kind of shook it off to an extent at the end of the round. Just tried to smile, tried to enjoy the fact that you don’t play in this often.
“You wish your score didn’t matter … that it was just a round with your buddies where you go into the clubhouse and have one or seven pints afterwards.”
Nevertheless, he wasn’t about to blame the elements.
“I didn’t have very good control of the golf ball today,” Spieth conceded. “I could blame the draw if I was playing really well and I was at three or four under. But at four over par my game is not major-championship-winning caliber. It just made it pretty interesting and actually somewhat nervous on the last five, six holes, because I’d really like to play the weekend, which in all honesty does good stuff for me. If I’m not going to have the nerves of competing on Sunday, I may as well have some kind of nerves, which was grinding to make the cut.”
Though he has won twice this year, Spieth has struggled elsewhere to qualify for the weekend, including at the U.S. Open. He has now failed to break par in his last six major championship rounds. And his T-37 finish at Oakmont Country Club in his U.S. Open title defense came on the heels of surrendering a second-straight Masters victory with an inexplicable back-nine tumble.
It’s not the encore that was perhaps anticipated after his Grand Slam bid last year when he won the Masters and U.S. Open and finished T-4 at the Open Championship (one shot out of a playoff), and second at the PGA Championship.
Spieth, No. 3 in the world, all but dismissed any hope of winning this weekend, so he had to contemplate attainable goals. Perhaps he could sneak into the top-10. Try to make solid contact with the golf ball. Another major is just around the corner with the PGA two weeks away, shoehorned into the schedule to make way for the Olympics. Making these reps over the next 36 holes meaningful in some capacity would have to be a suitable reward.
“I have to look at the conditions to make a somewhat lofty, realistic goal,” Spieth said, “but it’s certainly worth shooting after and trying to gain some momentum. Again, at this point, I’m looking to put nice, smooth, solid swings, very confident putts, on it to lead into the PGA Championship.”
The confidence with which Jordan Spieth glided through the major championships last year has disappeared. As he said in Akron, Ohio, two weeks ago during the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, growing pains were inevitable. Every player goes through them. It’s really a road to self-discovery, and it can get bumpy.