Date: November 22, 2017
Author: Martin Blake

PREVIEW: Spieth and Day in title fight

It’s a world heavyweight championship for the ages at The Australian this week and Jordan Spieth and Jason Day have both welcomed the fight.

On the eve of the Emirates Australian Open, world No. 2 and dual champion Spieth has heaped praise on Day and expressed hope that they can reprise the heady days of the 2015 season when they went head-to-head in the last three majors of the year.

As for Day, he cannot wait for the bell to ring. “I would love to play with Spieth on Sunday … last group. That would be the greatest thing,’’ he said today.

Spieth, who ultimately won two majors in 2015 and pipped Day for player of the year honours on the United States PGA Tour, remembers exactly how relentless it was. “We’ve had some great battles,’’ said the American. “The 2015 season … any time I threw up something one week, I’d think I had an advantage on him in the player of the year race, I’d think I had it locked up and all of a sudden it goes to the last tournament.’’

More recently they have both had their relative lulls but they have spent a lot of time together this week, a duel act at the tournament cocktail party, for instance.  “Honestly it’s fun because you talk about it with each other, how you’re feeling, the respect you have for each other’s games and seasons,’’ said Spieth.

In Day’s only major win, the 2015 US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, he had to fight off Spieth, who was playing in the final group with him. The Australian regards Spieth as having “the best mental toughness out of anyone on the tour’’, and needless to say, there is mutual respect.

 “He’d push, make a good par putt or a good birdie and I’d birdie the same hole or make a par putt or something,’’ said Day of that dogfight. “I just never let him … I knew if I left the door open a little bit, he’d close it pretty quick and my lead would be down to pretty much nothing and it’d be a matchplay format from there. My goal was to keep pushing and not let him in. The biggest thing with Jordan is he’s a competitor.’’

Spieth is coming off a break and acknowledges that he has no idea how his game will show up this week. What he did not say was that he tends to handle this particular issue very well. He has won two of the past three Opens – at The Australian in 2014 and Royal Sydney last year – off the same lack of preparation.

Asked what his motivation was for coming back to Australia so often, he said:  “To give myself a true rest time and then be able to play a world class event at a world class venue which we’ve done the last three years. It gives me that break to kind of figure out anything that I’ve worked on in that six-week period. I say trial and error, it’s seeing where things are at, to make then more adjustments as we get into the season. So it’s a great time of the year to gear things back up in a fantastic event that I’ve had success at, and  seen it propel into the next season.’’

His 63 in the closing round at this course in 2014 is sometimes called the best tournament round in Australian golfing history; for Spieth, it is a source of good memories because it catapulted him into his victory and then into the magnificent 2015 season overseas.

“Just more on memory on how big that was for me in my career,’’ he said. “It really was a big day. I obviously didn’t know it at the time, but it was a big day, second professional win … I didn’t know it would springboard me into the next season, that ability to close. Now it’s easier to draw back on more recent memories. It all goes into the memory bank and you can always pick and choose what you want in different situations.’’

Spieth has his Australian coach Cameron McCormick on the bag because his regular bagman Michael Greller is celebrating the birth of a son at home, but Spieth believes it will be good for him. Apart from anything else, there is redemption to seek because the last time it happened, at the US Amateur at Chambers Bay in 2010, it was a disaster (Spieth shot an 83 to miss the matchplay portion, having won the title the previous year).

Greller is methodical where McCormick is not, so Spieth said it would be an interesting mix.  “Cam’s more ‘just shut up and hit it, quit taking so long’,’’ he said. “He’s more (about) reaction, pick the club. I’m not sure yet. It’ll be fun talking through clubs with him. Cam has the highest golf IQ of anyone I’ve ever talked to. I’ve learned so much from him in the last 10 years, 11 years. So to be able

Spieth has a 12.10 tee time for tomorrow’s first round, playing alongside Queenslander Cameron Smith and Matt Jones, who won here two years ago.

Day, who has never won his national Open, last played at The Australian as a 16-year-old amateur in 2004 when Peter Lonard won. He  tees off at 7.05am tomorrow from the 10th tee with Victorian Geoff Ogilvy and Queensland’s Rod Pampling.

First tee-offs are at 6.45 pm tomorrow.