ST ANDREWS // Out-scored and out-hit by playing partner Dustin Johnson and trailing Tiger Woods in the popularity stakes, Jordan Spieth still displayed the hallmarks of a potential British Open champion on Thursday with a composed opening round of 67.
The 21-year-old American, making only his third appearance in the tournament, kept his head when the St Andrews course tripped him up and showed an unerring touch with the hottest putter in the game.
His five-under-par score around an Old Course becalmed by light breezes, was two worse than leader Johnson who consistently belted his ball further than his compatriot.
Not that he cared.
“I’ve played enough golf with him to believe in my skill set that I can still trump that crazy ability that he has,” Spieth said of Johnson’s spectacular round.
“I expect when he stands on the tee it’s going to be up there miles and down the fairway. I also expect that I can birdie each hole. It’s just a little different route.”
As 14-times major champion Woods was unravelling amid the frenzy that still accompanies his every move, Spieth showed why he has the Masters and US Open under his belt.
With talk of history in the making – no player has won the year’s first three majors since Ben Hogan in 1953 – Spieth could have been jittery, especially at the “Home of Golf” and with the great and good tipping him as favourite.
Instead, he was blemish-free, carding seven birdies, the pick of the bunch a 20-foot curler he rolled in for a grandstand finish on the 18th green.
But the real clue to Spieth’s quality was the way he responded when the Old Course bit him – a quality that will be needed with bad weather on the way.
At the 465-yard par-four 13th he drove into a bunker and dropped a shot. Another one could have gone at the 14th, but he rescued par with a tricky 12-footer.
A visit to the notorious Road Hole bunker on the 17th cost him a five but he finished with a flourish at the 18th.
Although Johnson won the day’s duel, Spieth is ready for another battle on Friday.
“I think that tomorrow is a true Scottish day that we all should enjoy the challenge ahead, but today was a big day to try and get off to a good start,” he said.
Scot Paul Lawrie said he may have to invite himself to his own tournament in a fortnight’s time unless he wins a second Open title this week.
The 46-year-old does not qualify for the Saltire Energy Paul Lawrie Match Play, which he is hosting in Aberdeen.
After beginning the 144th championship with his second-best score in the Open, though, the 1999 Claret Jug recipient now has a chance of avoiding the awkwardness of having to parachute himself into his own tournament.
“I think I might get in if I win this week. Maybe it’s too late, I don’t know,” he said after an opening six-under 66.
“As I stand I may have to invite myself to my own tournament.
“It’s only the first round so there’s a long way to go. There’s an unbelievable amount of world-class players playing this week so I’m not even thinking about Sunday as of yet.”
Lawrie, like many of the early starters, took advantage of what were likely to be the easiest conditions of the week.
With yesterday’s morning groups expected to get the rough end of worsening weather on Friday afternoon, Lawrie knew he had to make the most of what was on offer.
“Obviously it was quite calmish this morning, so it’s important to take advantage of those conditions if you can,” he said.
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