THERE’S no question who the favourite is for the Open Championship, but there is very good reason to doubt that Jordan Spieth will be able to complete the third leg of a Majors grand slam at St Andrews this week.
Yes, Spieth is on the crest of a wave. His recovery from a bad first round at last week’s John Deere Classic to shoot rounds of 64 and 61, eventually forcing a play-off that he won for his fourth title of an extraordinary year, was nothing short of brilliant.
He’d also be a worthy winner. Having already won the Masters and US Open, the American would have been forgiven for skipping the John Deere Classic and heading straight for Scotland to begin his Open practice, but he had clearly promised that he would play in Illinois – so he did. That showed great character and illustrated what a gentleman the 21-year-old already is.
Yet it was an incredible decision in the circumstances, and I wonder whether it may prove to be his undoing this time. As well as the planet’s best golfers – minus injured world No1 Rory McIlroy – Spieth will have to overcome the side-effects of travel, changing time zones and jetlag, and, perhaps most significantly of all, a course he barely knows.
Spieth has played St Andrews just once before, and never in competition. Even for a man who has shown ability to win on links-style courses, in the US Open at Chambers Bay last month, and whose game should in theory suit the Home of Golf, it is a big disadvantage.
St Andrews is not the toughest course in the world, but it has countless subtleties that take time to learn. There’s no doubt that he can win the Open regardless, but I’d give him more of a chance were he arriving late at Royal Birkdale, Hoylake or Turnberry.
One of Spieth’s biggest challenges may come from another winner last week, and a man who has come of age this season, Rickie Fowler.
His Scottish Open chances looked to have nosedived when he bogeyed the 14th on Sunday at Gullane, but Fowler stormed back with three birdies in the last four holes to snatch a second title of 2015.
It had echoes of the American’s breakthrough victory at The Players Championship in May, when he sank four birdies and an eagle in the last six holes to force a play-off that he would go on and win.
It was breathtaking golf and evidence of what a phenomenal little player Fowler is. Wins like that stay with you your whole career; he now knows he can play the last six in six-under-par if he needs to. After near misses in all four Majors last year, he looks ready to win one.
Fellow United States Ryder Cup stars Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson are both very long hitters and, as such, look well suited to St Andrews. Johnson is a great player, as his second shot to the 18th at Chambers Bay showed, and Bubba likes to shape the ball, which also helps here.
In McIlroy’s absence there are few obvious contenders for a home win at the only European Major. World No7 Henrik Stenson has a fantastic game and has shown some signs of form this season, so is probably the most likely candidate.
But perhaps it is time for a younger, less heralded name to announce themselves on the big stage. This is an opportunity for Englishmen such as James Morrison, Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood, or Ireland’s Shane Lowry.
Sam Torrance OBE is a multiple Ryder Cup-winning golfer and media commentator. Follow him on Twitter@torrancesam
WHAT THE OPEN MEANS TO ME
“The Open is the championship that started it all. And there can only be one first. No doubt about it, for a British golfer it’s the greatest of them all. On a personal level I feel much pride in having won it.”
WHY THE OPEN IS SO SPECIAL
DAVID CANNON, R&A CHIEF PHOTOGRAPHER
“It is the Major 95 per cent of players dream about winning. It is the oldest championship in golf and carries all that history and is played on the finest links courses. The walk up to the 72nd hole has to be the finest walk in golf. Every time I am on the final hole I have goosebumps. You can always feel the electricity in the air in those final moments.”