This Open Championship could be a good one. Jordan Spieth enters the week having won both majors for this year and is favored to win the third one. Why? Never mind that he’s playing terrific golf, but somewhere in his tour bag or his locker Spieth has a talisman that has set these acts in motion:
- Tiger Woods is mired in the slump of a lifetime.
- Dustin Johnson couldn’t sink a four-footer to force a playoff in the U.S. Open, leaving Spieth the winner last month at Chambers Bay.
- The No. 1 golfer in the world – Rory McIlroy – sustained an ankle injury in a pickup soccer game and is not in The Open Championship this week.
And just for good measure, No. 2 ranked Spieth enters the week with even more of an aura of goodness beyond the wholesome/All-America image that he already projects. Despite a schedule whose demands increased exponentially after Spieth (top) won the Masters and the U.S. Open, Spieth honored his commitment to play in the John Deere Classic last weekend in the Quad Cities, yup, smack in the middle of nowhere. And of course, he won the Deere in a playoff.
Now he’s on the old sod. And if you plan to watch play on the Old Course at St. Andrews, you’ll have to pick your sleep-deprivation poison: ESPN television at 4 a.m. (EDT) or ESPN.com for live streaming at 1:30 a.m. (EDT). Either way, the alarm will sound at an OMG hour, even for those who love golf enough to rally at pre-dawn to watch The Open Championship.
Seventy-nine of the top 80 players in the men’s world ranking will tee up as part of a field of 156, give or take late withdrawals.
The field is loaded.
And just because the locale is the most storied site in golf (yes, even more so than Augusta National) it’s worth at least a couple of predawn hours to watch the best in the world fight the wind and rain that are forecast to blow off the North Sea. The Old Course stretches over 7,300 yards for The Open and par is 72.
Already in practice rounds, golfers have commented on the relative softness of the fairways, which usually run so hard and fast that a long hitter shoots driver and short iron to cover a par-5. In excellent conditions, talented players go low. In swirling wind and rain, even the best are humbled. Woods, for example, when he played golf at a level mere mortals couldn’t comprehend, shot an 81 on a day in 2002 when storm chasers might very well have been waiting off the tee.
For TV golf worth watching, keep an eye on the group that tees off at 4:33 a.m. (EDT): Spieth, Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama.
Spieth won’t go unchallenged this week. Johnson might in fact have shaken off whatever it was that caused him to three-putt on the 18th at the U.S. Open. Spieth also will get competition from Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose and Adam Scott. Bubba Watson definitely has the length to beat the Old Course, but his record in The Open Championship has not been good.
Along with the dramatic competition among the youngsters, a few sentimental moments will mark The Open Championship. Tom Watson, who has won The Open five times, will take his final stroll across the iconic (in this case, it really is, as opposed to a shopworn cliché) Swilcan Bridge, above. Watson (right), has played in 37 British opens. Remember when Jack Nicklaus paused on the bridge to wave farewell? And Nick Faldo had said this would be his last competitive round in The Open, but has decided to wait until the tournament returns to his native England, according to the Golf Channel.
The Open is unavoidably sentimental, particularly when it’s played at St. Andrews. The competition dates to 1860 when eight players battled at Prestwick to decide the “champion golfer of the year.” That title has endured over the 144 years that the tournament has rotated over 14 British courses, but it gets a little more special each time golfers tee it up on the Old Course. It’s the “old sod” because golf dates back 600 years at St. Andrews. The “new course” there was built in 1895.
The weather forecast calls for temperatures in the low-to-mid-60s, with a 20 percent chance for rain Thursday and 100 percent Friday. Get your rain gear and have “a cashmere” handy, this should be a good one.