The Day the Narratives Died: Five hot takes that turned cold on Thursday
ST. ANDREWS -- The great thing about a sports narrative is that it usually has time to gather momentum before it can be proved or debunked, and that lets the pontificators on both sides become more and more extreme until two armies of zealots have formed.
Polarization is America's new national pastime, and aside from politics, sports finds us at our absolute best. Unfortunately, the time always comes when the players play, and the actual results flow in. That happened Thursday at St. Andrews, and it was not a good day for narratives. Here are the five saddest casualties of the opening round:
1. Jordan Spieth should not have played the John Deere Classic
Verdict: NOT CORRECT.
Spieth got his first PGA Tour win at the John Deere in 2013 after the tournament gave him a sponsor's exemption, and by way of thanks, he played again this year. And he won again this year, even as fans and media harangued him, arguing that he was doomed if he didn't show up early to St. Andrews for preparation, or at least play the Scottish Open to get in the links zone.
But Spieth had bigger plans—here's what he had to say after today's round, a 67:
"I wanted to come off of a competitive tournament. I could have played the Scottish, as well. I wanted to go somewhere I was comfortable playing and figured I could get in contention and feel the nerves, and that's what happened. Our game plan worked out perfectly."
Even if nabbing another PGA Tour win wasn't convincing enough for some of the anti-John Deere crowd, his excellent opening round at St. Andrews should be. And by the way, Zach Johnson, Robert Streb, and Retief Goosen all played the John Deere, and they're all in the top six as of this writing.
2. In general, experience at St. Andrews is invaluable
Verdict: NOT VERY CORRECT RIGHT NOW.
Here's my question: Can you really have a huge experience edge at a course you only play once ever five years? I get there's a reason a Masters rookie hasn't won since the '70s, because these guys visit Augusta every year. But are there truly vast stores of knowledge saved up from 2010 and 2005 for the veterans?
Maybe, but the results aren't showing it. Spieth, Streb and Jordan Niebrugge came out gangbusters, while Tiger and a few of the other vets have looked terrible. Maybe I'll be singing a different tune on Sunday, but for now, the leaderboard looks like a statistical mixed bag in which experience isn't really positive or negative to any noticeable degree.
3. Tiger's back!
Tiger shot a 4-over 76 today, and all that talk about leading the Greenbrier in iron proximity amounted to exactly nothing. As our own Alex Myers noted, it took exactly two holes to see that he was done. After his round, the contrast between he and Spieth couldn't have been more distinct. It's always painful to admit that an icon has fallen, but after a day of duffed shots and awful body language, the balloon of Tiger-related optimism just got pierced by the needle of reality.
4. Dustin Johnson will be affected by playing in Spieth's group Thursday and Friday
Verdict: SUPER NOT CORRECT.
Dustin Johnson leads the tournament at seven-under. He seems fine. I'm not even convinced he remembers what happened at Chambers Bay.
5. Charl Schwartzel is doomed because he has to play with Bubba Watson and Ian Poulter
Verdict: FUNNY, BUT NOT CORRECT.
Granted, this was more of a Twitter narrative than anything else, but when the pairings came out, Schwartzel looked like the unluckiest man in the draw. Having to play with Bubba in the elements is never a picnic, and legend has it that Poulter hasn't smiled in a decade. Even among the Fun Bunch, though, Schwartzel put together a 67, and managed to go under par on the difficult back nine. I'd say that's a raging success.
Then again, he still has to survive day two, and the wind is coming.