Date: December 01, 2019
Author: Martin Blake

Aus Open as launching pad

Jordan Spieth hasn’t won in a while. Two years or so, it is, which is an age for him. So really what he ought to be doing is coming back and playing the Emirates Australian Open.

Well, it’s a thought anyway.

The Australian Open has been many things to many people over a lot of years, the professional tournament that dates back the farthest of our great events, all the way to 1904.

It’s been dubbed – possibly by accident – the “fifth major”, a moniker that proved to be something of a millstone after Jack Nicklaus – speaking off the cuff and for a partisan audience in 1971 at Royal Hobart – uttered the words.

It’s a tournament that has endured its struggles, but more recently, it’s been something of a launching pad for big-time players.

Which is where Spieth comes into the picture, although he won’t be at The Australian this year.

Spieth first came to Australia in 2014 and at the time, while he was a 21-year-old phenom and a winner on the US PGA Tour, he had not really franked his talent at pro level.

Shooting eight-under-par 63 in tricky, windy conditions at one of the toughest courses in the country, and doing it on the final day to come from behind and win the Australian Open will do it for you. The American, so generous with his time and so ambassadorial for one so young, called it “the best round I’ve ever played”.

He won handsomely, but what happened next is the key. Spieth had been craving a win for a while in the lead-up to that week. The following week, he went to play in Tiger Woods’ tournament and utterly dominated.

“I hit the ball well here (at The Australian), played a fantastic final round and went on and took that victory into my best ball-striking week I've ever had as a golfer at Tiger's event in Orlando.”

Spieth was away and running, and his 2015 is the stuff of legend. He won the Masters and the US Open that year, and was only a shot off reaching a playoff at the Open Championship and runner-up to Jason Day in the PGA Championship, hitting the world No. 1 ranking for the first time.

He never missed an opportunity to talk up the 2014 Australian Open as his catalyst; the performance that started the run.

Yet he was not even the first. Rory McIlroy knows the story, too. McIlroy’s victory in the 2013 Australian Open at Royal Sydney, taking down home favourite Adam Scott at the iconic 18th hole, came before the biggest galleries that had been seen at an Open for many years, with thousands of fans milling around that elevated green complex.

Scott had won the Masters at Augusta National that year to write himself into this country’s sporting history books, then on his triumphal march back home, had won the Australian Masters and the Australian PGA in the preceding weeks, giving himself a chance of taking the so-called Triple Crown. He’d also played well at Royal Sydney again, reaching the 72nd hole with a one-shot lead over McIlroy, playing in the final group.

The Northern Irishman had endured a winless 2013 to that point, and he had not quite yielded to Scott and the will of the Australian fans yet. He hit a beautiful short iron into the green and Scott’s fatal eight-iron bounced hard on the putting surface and skated off the back, down an embankment from which the up-and-down would be difficult.

McIlroy nailed his putt for birdie; Scott made bogey and that was it. Still, one of the greatest finishes in Open history with two of the world’s best going head-to-head; a little like Nicklaus and Gary Player had done in the 1970s.

But McIlroy, gracious enough to apologise to the crowd around the green at Royal Sydney was only starting out. It kickstarted him. In 2014, he won the US PGA Championship and the Open Championship. What’s more, look what happened to him since he stopped coming Down Under (his last Open start was in 2014). He has not won another major.

Jordan Spieth could offer some advice here. Spieth came down three years in a row, and won a second Stonehaven Cup in 2016 in a playoff against Cameron Smith and Ash Hall at Royal Sydney, burying a three-metre birdie putt for the win. He went on to say he felt the win would “do wonders” for him.

And it did. The following year, he won the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in another epic finish. Since Spieth stopped coming to Sydney, he has not won any majors.  Clearly there’s something in all this!

Just ask Cameron Davis, the Sydney wunderkind who won in 2017 at The Australian with a breathtaking final-round 64. The next year, he played on the secondary tour in America and secured his playing rights for the US PGA Tour.

Or Abraham Ancer, the Mexican who won at The Lakes in 2018. Ancer was ranked 98th in the world on the day he blew them away in Sydney; more recently, he’s been in the 30s and he is also about to be the first Mexican to play in the Presidents Cup for the Internationals.

Another bunch of big names will tee it up at The Australian from 5-8 December. A win carries some cache with it, some golfing significance.

Stand by for the launch sequence.

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