Monday 24 October 2016

Jordan Spieth sets sights on Rory McIlroy's Open crown and world number one status

James Corrigan

Published 23/06/2015 | 12:54

Doing the double: Jordan Spieth with his second major trophy of 2015 Photo: Getty Images
Doing the double: Jordan Spieth with his second major trophy of 2015 Photo: Getty Images

As if Rory McIlroy did not realise that Jordan Spieth’s intentions were to go to St Andrews in three weeks’ time and take his Open crown as well as his world No 1 status then this remark­able young man has spelt it out.

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Showing the same cool head which helped him win the US Open title in such dramatic fashion on Sunday night, Spieth outlined the next step in his quest for global domination. He has joined the legendary five who lifted the Masters and US Open titles in the same year – and now he is taking aim at emulating Ben Hogan in winning the first three.

The scene is set up perfectly. Spieth and McIlroy hold the four majors between them going into the event and that has not happened since 1972 with Jack ­Nicklaus and Lee Trevino. On that occasion, Trevino denied Nicklaus the treble by a shot. Spieth is determined to avoid the same fate.

 “To have two players holding the four majors is awesome – the game is in young hands,” Spieth said. “I don’t think much of a rivalry. I’ve said that from the beginning. Rory has four majors and dozens of wins and I’m just starting out. But I’m certainly quite a bit younger than he is. I’m just happy to have these two titles and to be chasing that No1 spot which he holds. I’m certainly focused on that.”

Spieth and McIlroy can play down the “rivalry” all they like. Nobody else will. The pair will meet up at the Home of Golf and all the talk will be about who will assume the big chair. For Spieth, the chances for immortality will stretch out before him on that fabled links.

“The Claret Jug is the sole focus, I am not going to look beyond that,” Spieth said. “We will go to St Andrews looking to win and I believe we will be able to get the job done if we get the right prep in.

“This [Chambers Bay] was somewhat of a British-style golf course, so I’ve proven to myself that I can win on a British-style golf course. Now I take it to the truest British-style golf course in the world and I’m just excited for the opportunity.

“And I’m not going to think about what could possibly happen after that.”

Spieth did concede that an unprecedented grand slam was “in the realms of possibility” but it was quite clearly step-by-step for the 21-year-old and already he has turned his thoughts to the iconic venue which he has visited just once. That was four years ago when he was a highly rated member of the US Walker Cup team on their way to match in Aberdeen.

“It’s one of my favourite places in the world,” Spieth said. “I remember walking around the R & A clubhouse and seeing paintings of royalty ­playing golf, and it was dated 14‑whatever. I’m thinking, our country was discovered in 1492 and they were playing golf here before anyone even knew the Americas existed.”

Spieth is golfing royalty now, although he does not act it. Contrary to traditional superstar fashion, he will not sneak into Scotland on a private jet on the Friday or Saturday before, but instead will arrive on a lowly Illinois charter flight on the morning Monday with his fellow PGA Tour pros who also played in the John Deere Classic.

If honouring that commitment to the first professional event he won – all of two years ago – underlines his humility then so, too, did his reaction after watching his countryman ­Dustin Johnson three-putting the final green. “That was just an odd deal – very odd,” Spieth said. “I very much feel for Dustin. He deserves to be holding the trophy just as much as I do.”

 Spieth admitted that he believed he had blown it with that double bogey on the 17th after being three ahead with two to go. “How did I possibly let this happen?” he told his caddie, Michael Greller. But if the Masters proved that when his putter is at its hottest he can run away from the best in the game, then Chambers Bay highlighted his ability to scrap it out.

“The US Open is conquering the hardest layout in all of golf and fact that we did it like this is amazing,” Spieth said. “I didn’t have my best stuff ball-striking at all and we really grinded over this four- or five-footers. That was the difference.”

Contrast that with McIlroy, who finished five back from Spieth despite claiming: “I’ve never hit the ball as good in a major championship.” For the moment, the major winning touch has deserted the Northern Irishman and although there is absolutely no need for panic, with three victories already this season allowing him to maintain his position as No 1, there will clearly be some urgency going in the Open. It is over to Rory now, as Paul McGinley, his close friend and Ryder Cup captain acknowledged.

“Rory has to step up to the plate,” McGinley said. “As well as he played to finish fourth in the Masters and ninth at this US Open, the bottom line is he left himself too much ground to make up. Jordan is putting it to Rory.”

 He is putting it to history as well. When informed that he was the youngest to win the US Open since Bobby Jones in 1923, that he had become the first player to win multiple major-winner before his 22nd birthday since Gene Sarazen in 1922, Spieth’s chest puffed out. And when the names of the other Master-

US Open double champions were read out – Craig Wood, Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Nicklaus and Tiger Woods – his eyes positively gleamed.

“I didn’t think that those names would be mentioned like that,” he said. “That gives me goose bumps.”

Next stop St Andrews.

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