The Open 2015: Jordan Spieth relishes the pressure as he aims for historic triumph

'I'm going to play to win, I don't want to place third,' he said

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The Independent Online

That must be quite a simulator Jordan Spieth has of the Old Course at his home in Texas. The reality of his virtual preparation for the Open is that this kid can play whatever game he likes.

“I’m going to play to win, I don’t want to place third,” Spieth said. His Grand Slam is on. So is the pressure. “If I have a chance coming down the stretch, if it creeps in, I’ll embrace it,” Spieth said. “If it adds more pressure, it just makes me feel like this is something that’s a little more special, let’s go ahead and get the job done. Only one person has ever done it before, that opportunity very rarely comes around, and I’d like to have a chance.”

At 11 under par after a third-round 66 yesterday, Spieth has a tilt at history today. Sergio Garcia, his playing partner, at nine under par, also has another date with the Claret Jug. Will he finally take it home in his arms or will it be another tale of heartache and unrequited love on the links for the Spaniard?

“I love this tournament. Everybody knows, after the Ryder Cup, it’s my favourite tournament,” Garcia said. “I love the links game and also the people. I feel they carry me around the course wherever I go. It doesn’t matter if I’m doing well or not, they’re always there and cheering, and I can really feel the energy.”

Is Spieth the man to beat after his success at the Masters and the US Open? “He’s one of them, for sure,” Garcia said. “But he’s not the only guy to beat. There’s a lot of really good players that are going to be there having a chance.”

 

What is it with grey this week? Everyone’s been wearing grey jumpers and grey trousers to match the grey skies in the Auld Grey Toon. It’s 50 shades of grey in Fife. What a climax it will be come this evening. But there are no grey areas about winning the silver jug. It’s black and white. Win or lose.

With six minutes to go before their 1.30pm tee time yesterday, there was no sign of either Spieth or Garcia. Had they dozed off in the players’ lounge watching the tennis or cricket? Turns out they had been sheltering from a flash downpour behind the R&A clubhouse. Out they came, dressed in grey of course. Spieth strolled to the practice putting green and stroked in an eight-footer as easy as rolling spuds into a bucket. He really is a putting metronome. A middle-aged woman whooped and swooned. Steady on, it’s only the foreplay.

He dialled in another then headed to the tee to be greeted by the official starter, Ivor Robson, who is retiring after this 144th Open Championship and looking forward to spending the rest of his life going to the toilet whenever he jolly well likes.

Garcia didn’t even bother with a final practice putt. Possibly because he had his hands stuffed deep inside his winter mittens. There was indeed a chill in the air. But not in the atmosphere between these two players, who are rivals here and will be at the Ryder Cup next year too. They were getting along like old pals – but two suitors after the same girl.

Spieth and his caddie spent an age checking their yardage book on the first tee. It’s the widest fairway in golf. Just whack it up there somewhere into the big field, son. Maybe it was nerves or a comfort blanket or Spieth’s obsession with preparation. No such filibustering from Garcia.

Their characters couldn’t be more different. Garcia plays best when he’s happy and feeling the love of the spectators. He’s a sensitive soul who wears his heart on his sleeve. It’s his strength and his weakness. When he’s up he bounces along like Tigger. When he’s down he droops and lollops like Eeyore.

Spieth, however, is a model of intense concentration, rather like Tiger Woods in his prime. Nothing looks like it would put him off but his game-face is a mask.

 

His secret weapon on the course is his even temperament but he plays best when he’s angry. Watch him next time he misses a putt – watch carefully, he doesn’t miss many. He’ll scowl at the hole and pull his cap over his face so no one can hear or lip-read his grasp of Anglo-Saxon American. Hey, nobody’s perfect. It’s his release valve.

After the perfect start of three birdies in seven holes to get to eight under par, he had almost caught the overnight leader Dustin Johnson. Then Spieth three-putted the ninth to drop a shot and switched on that release valve. He got angry beneath his cap. He then birdied the next three holes to take a share of the lead. The Grand Slam was on.

Garcia had chances to join Spieth on 11 under but left putts close but above ground, especially on the 17th and 18th. On the way to the scorer’s hut, he muttered to himself like Muttley in The Wacky Races.

Garcia.jpg They both received fabulous support. Never mind Old Trafford, the stadium effect of packed grandstands around the first, 17th and 18th holes of the Old Course is one of the greatest theatres of dreams in all sport. Spectators hung out of every available balcony and window of the Old Course Hotel and crammed together on the wall of the Jigger Inn’s beer garden. Spieth and Garcia soaked up their ovation. It was richly deserved for two likeable golfers after fine rounds that provided top-class entertainment and grace under pressure. Each had his own fancy-dress fan club. Americans wearing Stars and Stripes kilts; Spaniards sporting sombreros.

Spieth flirted with the out-of-bounds fence at the 18th, his ball skirting past the Rusacks Hotel. Arnold Palmer stayed there in 1960 when he was trying to win the third leg of his Grand Slam. Palmer finished second to the Australian Kel Nagle. With Australian Jason Day joint leader at 12 under, how’s that for an omen for the American?

Garcia came second last year to Rory McIlroy. The world No 1 is not here, apart from some fella wearing a giant Rory mask behind the 18th. Don’t think that will frighten Garcia.

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