Saturday, July 16, 2016

Jordan Spieth fails to break par in 10th consecutive major round

Rory McIlroy knew what Jordan Spieth was about to experience in 2016, coming off a two-major year.

You see, McIlroy had just put the finishing touches on a zero-major 2015, a year after winning the British Open and PGA Championship to rack up his third and fourth career major titles.

“It will feel completely different for Jordan,” McIlroy told the Telegraph in December 2015. “If you look at the stats at how those who have had a double-major season have performed the next year … well, it’s hard to back up. It just is. There’s so much expectation, so much attention and focus. And I think it is more self-inflicted pressure really as your expectations are so high.”

And as Spieth put the finishing touches on a 1-over 72 at Royal Troon on Saturday, the Ulsterman, on the fringes of contention in this British Open, seemed prescient.

Spieth has failed to break par in his last 10 major championship rounds, ever since he opened the Masters in April with a 6-under 66 that set the tone for his run at a second consecutive green jacket. 74-73-73-72-72-70-75-71-75-72. He’s 18 over par in that stretch.

It’s the sign of a guy chasing to live up to one of the best major seasons in golf history at the age of 21 – what could turn out to be his best season, all told. He’s chasing guys in Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and McIlroy who hit the ball 30 yards farther off the tee, trying to find some added distance and the confidence they have to drive the ball. He’s chasing a more consistent tee-to-green game, making changes with teacher Cameron McCormick. He’s dealing with the reality that he is the face of American golf, even as Johnson realizes his potential.

It didn’t help that, this week, his putter let him down. On Thursday, he hit 16 greens in regulation and took 33 putts to get around Royal Troon. The greens are slower at the Open, and that didn’t help. However, when Spieth’s short game doesn’t shine, even if he’s otherwise playing well, it’s difficult to contend on a PGA Tour that is and in major fields that are deeper than ever.

By no means does Spieth’s 2016 run in the majors suggest he’s a flash in the pan. He’s not done. He’s won twice this year and was a better swing on No. 12 at Augusta National away from a third major title. Spieth decided the mechanical changes weren’t enough, vowing to appeal to critics and play faster and talk to the golf ball and his caddie, Michael Greller, less.

Now the question is, when will the transformation pay major dividends? He has showed some signs this week of a looming return to major form. In two weeks, he can demonstrate more progress at the PGA Championship.

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