Jordan Spieth makes the most of a Mercurial British Open course

SANDWICH, England – Jordan Spieth, a born communicator, was talking, as usual, to himself, his caddy, his ball in flight and in motion.

There was no shortage of good news to discuss Thursday as Spieth dodged danger and birdies on day one of the British Open.

It was Spieth’s first time playing at Royal St. George’s, and you would never have known it because he finished with a 65 under par, just one stroke ahead of Louis Oosthuizen.

“For the most part, historically, I’ve been to places I’ve never seen before in any tournament, not just an Open, and I’ve always tried to find something I like about it,” he said. declared Spieth. “There were times lately where I said, ‘Dude, I really don’t like this place. “But I came here and was in a really good mood about it.”

Local knowledge does not necessarily equate to power in golf, especially when the wind picks up significantly in the afternoon.

Phil Mickelson tied for second with Dustin Johnson the last time the Open Championship was held at Royal St. George’s in 2011. Less than two months ago he won the PGA Championship. at age 50, becoming the oldest golfer to win a major championship.

But none of that continued on Thursday, as Mickelson, now 51, misjudged chips, missed putts and put way too many of his tee shots in particularly thick rough this year.

“Before! Right! he shouted off the ninth tee after his last wandering practice.

“He’s the one I don’t understand,” Mickelson told Tim Mickelson, his brother and younger son, as he walked grumpily towards his ball.

“I thought if I could get a little closer it wouldn’t do that,” he said of his position.

“It wasn’t too fast, was it?” he asked, referring to his swing tempo.

The doubt was not only audible. It was visible. After finishing the first nine with another bogey, he stood beside the ninth green with his arms crossed and his head bowed.

“Come on Phil!” shouted an English fan, one of some 32,000 spectators on the course Thursday.

“Calm down Phil! Another shouted.

But there was no joy to come as Mickelson continued on with the stronger and stronger wind rattling pins and making ripples and waves in the long fescue as if it were the surface of a inland sea.

He finished at 10 above par with an 80, tied with Deyen Lawson for the worst score of the day in the field of 156 players. It was Mickelson’s worst first-round score of all major tournaments and his second-worst British Open score, behind just 15 of 85 he shot in the third round in 1998 at the Royal Birkdale.

“I didn’t see it coming,” he said after leaving the scorer’s tent and – politely – refused to discuss the round.

“I’m in last place,” he said, avoiding eye contact. “It’s just to make fun of me.”

Informed that this was not the purpose of the interview, he continued to walk.

“Well I’m doing my best,” he said. “I’m sorry. I have to play early tomorrow.

It was the last reminder of how quickly form and conditions can change, especially on a link course. It was also a reminder of what’s left of a brain golf game.

Spieth knows this too well. He looked set for a long run at the top of the game when he managed to win 10 tournaments over three seasons, becoming the second youngest Masters champion – behind Tiger Woods – in 2015 and reaching No.1 in the world rankings. . He won the British Open at the Royal Birkdale in 2017.

He couldn’t maintain that momentum and fell to No. 82 in the standings at the end of 2020, but he resurfaced this season, recording eight top 10s, tying third at the Masters and winning the Valero Texas Open.

“Golf is a game played between the ears, isn’t it?” he said Thursday. “When things don’t go well, you can certainly lose some confidence in him. It was the first time that I really had to try to regain my confidence, and it takes time. It’s an obvious combination of figuring things out mechanically, but also putting them to the test and mentally stepping up with enough oomph to go ahead and hit a few hits. This is how you build confidence using this improvement I think physically on the course under pressure. In no way do I feel like I’m where I want to be again mechanically, but this year has been a very, very good progress for me. “

At 27, Spieth is back at No. 23 in the table and rising, although he may face different conditions when he plays later today on Friday.

The top three golfers in the standings all started Thursday morning: Oosthuizen, Spieth and American Brian Harman, who also shot a 65. At this point the fairways and greens were smoother and more responsive, but not everyone has not prospered.

Bryson DeChambeau, one of Spieth’s playmates, tried to deploy his prodigious length off the tee to his advantage, but repeatedly found the rough. He only touched four of the 14 fairways and expressed his displeasure with his driver rather than his tactics. He finished with five bogeys and four birdies and a 1 in 71.

“I think not. 1 on this golf course it touches the fairway,” said Oosthuizen. “You won’t be able to do much from the rough here or the fairway bunkers. If you’re not there. feel comfortable with a driver around this golf course, don’t be afraid to lie down further, as long as you can get into the fairway. ”

Spieth, who isn’t one of the tour’s longest hitters, would surely be okay with that game plan after his first round at Royal St. George’s.

“I kind of got away with a few tee shots in the first cut which maybe if it was firmer they could have made their way right into the fescue,” he said. about the Open. “It’s a course where you have so much ripple in the fairways that if it gets firmer it becomes very reliant on the bounce.”

On Thursday, he handled the conditions with aplomb, making four consecutive birdies on the No.1 holes. 5, 6, 7 and 8 and two more on 15 and 16.

Mickelson couldn’t conjure a birdie at all despite roars of support from fans gathered on the mounds and behind the ropes.

On No. On the 18th, after slicing his last shot on the metal fence that separated the gallery from the fairway, he had to hit his second shot from the rough near the first tee, the place where his nightmarish game had started a few hours earlier.

“You’re the champion, Phil,” one fan shouted, using an unprintable adjective before champion, as he made his way to the green.

“PGAAAAAA” shouted another, sliding the vowel.

Mickelson threw a discreet thumb up and nodded but couldn’t avoid a final double bogey.

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