Date: November 24, 2017
Author: John Huggan

Huggan: Disappointing day for the champ

It is safe to assume that a level par round of 71 wasn’t quite what Jordan Spieth had in mind when he teed-off on day two of the 102nd Australian Open. But that’s just what the Open champion came up with on a calm and beautifully sunny Sydney morning – one shot more than he managed a day earlier in the stiff north-west wind that routinely makes The Australian course play two-to-three shots harder post-lunch. 

  The main culprit was the 24-year old American’s putter. What is widely seen as the strength of Spieth’s game – although he is amongst the first to disagree with that assessment – let him down more than once during a frustrating 18-holes. Only twice did his first putt on any of the Jack Nicklaus-designed greens find the bottom of the cup. A four-footer for par was one; the 12-footer for birdie on the 9th (his 18th) the second.

  “This year at least, the strength of my game has been in ball-striking,” claimed the three-time major champion. “So my putting is a work in progress this off-season. Today was a bit disappointing because that is what I have been spending my time on. I was a bit tentative to start. The greens were a bit slower than I thought and I left everything a foot or so short. If I had made one earlier, it could have been a completely different story today.

  “It wasn’t all bad though. Towards the end of the round I started to get a nice comfort level. I made some nice strokes on the back-nine, even if some of the putts didn’t go in.”

  All of which begs an obvious question: can Spieth make up what will be at least an eight-shot deficit over the next 36-holes and etch his name for a third time on the historic Stonehaven Cup? Not surprisingly, he feels like he can. And, as usual for this bright young man, he came up with a convincing reason why we should all think so too.

  “I feel like you can make up ground on this course just about more than any other we play,” he said. “So I think you can come from behind in this tournament more than at any tournament I have played this year.

  “Out early on Saturday morning in the calm conditions, I am going to have a pretty ‘gettable’ course to play. But in the afternoon the guys are really going to have to watch themselves. So if I can post something like 65 or 66 I’m going to be very much in this tournament.”

  Whether that happens or not is for the future to decide. But there is one certainty for Spieth over the weekend. With his swing coach, Melbourne-native Cameron McCormick, on the bag as his caddie, there will be plenty of talking going on.

  “It’s nice having Cam out there,” said Spieth with a smile. “He’s right there, available to listen and assess what I’m doing. That’s harder when it’s myself and (regular caddie) Michael (Grellar) trying to remember what happened when we see Cam a week after a tournament. It’s better when he sees me in the heat of the moment and sees the misread putts versus ones I was tentative on. That kind of stuff is so beneficial.”

  Still, for all his outward optimism, Spieth was honest enough to admit that the longish break he has just come off – he last played competitively more than seven weeks ago at the Presidents Cup – may just be his undoing.

  “Typically it requires a lot of reps for me to be at the highest level I can be at,” he said. “I’ll get them, but I’m not sure how quickly. My biggest problem these last two days has been short-game rust. That’s hurt me. I could be five-under instead of just one. So I need to go forward and shoot a low round.”

  Make that really low.