Date: November 23, 2017
Author: John Huggan

Huggan: Slow start fails to sink Spieth

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He hadn’t hit a shot in even mild annoyance, never mind anger, since October 1st, the final day of America’s Presidents Cup victory over the International squad. And almost eight weeks later, there were sure signs of his no doubt well-earned inactivity during defending champion Jordan Spieth’s opening round of 70, one-under par, at the 102nd Australian Open. The two-time winner of the Stonehaven Cup did make five birdies over the 7,280-yard Australian course, but five dropped shots more than hinted at competitive rustiness. 

All of which came as no real surprise. In his pre-championship press conference, Spieth had uttered a series of telling phrases. “Rest time,” “seeing where things are at,” “gave myself an off-season” and “took a lot of time off” all pointed towards reduced expectations. So, having followed a similarly relaxed program in the month prior to his second Australian Open victory at Royal Sydney a year ago, the three-time major champion was mentally prepared for the sometimes sloppy errors that almost inevitably crept into an up-and-down display that leaves him seven shots behind the leader, Cameron Davis.

Still, Spieth didn’t appear too concerned or dismayed at close of play. A typical birdie on the 18th where he holed from 20-feet after three mediocre shots – “I stole one there” – helped his mood. He may be only 24, but the Texan is truly tournament hardened. His astonishing display of virtuosity over the last six holes of the Open at Royal Birkdale earlier this year is testimony to his toughness and resilience even as momentum is running against him.

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Plus, Spieth knows only too well that the relatively inexperienced Davis – the 22-year old New South Welshman was Australian Amateur champion only two summers ago – will likely be teeing-up in much tougher afternoon conditions on day two. More concerning will be the presence of former world number-one Jason Day on five-under the card. Whatever, there remains ample time to make up ground that has so far been temporarily misplaced more than lost without hope of redemption.

“I was a bit inconsistent,” was Spieth’s predictable verdict. “But to shoot under par with five bogeys on the card is really good. There was quite a bit of good after a rough start. This is actually the longest time I’ve had between tournaments since college. Even last year here was a week less. I was kinda anxious to get started. I had nerves to begin with and my short game was a bit rusty. 

“I made bogey on just about every hole after my birdies. Fortunately, after making four on the 18th, I can’t bogey the 19th hole. But it was a little frustrating. Every time I thought I could build some momentum I couldn’t quite maintain it.”

Equally predictable was Spieth’s eager anticipation for a second round he will more than likely play in a much more pleasant morning calm. 

“You can see from the scoring that the morning guys had by far the better scoring conditions,” he continued. “I have to take advantage of that fact tomorrow. I’m not really seven shots back, given the difference in the conditions from morning to afternoon today. I need to shoot four or five under though. The course will bake-out on the weekend. The wind always blows here and the greens will firm up. So I’m not really anxious about my position yet.” 

It was, as ever, from this incredibly mature individual, the perfect summation. He’ll be there or thereabouts on Sunday. He always is in the Australian Open.