No Spieth limit in drive to St Andrews

Jordan Spieth can hardly believe the superb year he has had after winning the John Deere Classic by beating veteran journeyman Tom Gillis in a play-off.
Jordan Spieth can hardly believe the superb year he has had after winning the John Deere Classic by beating veteran journeyman Tom Gillis in a play-off.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

4th title this year at John Deere Classic means he will replace McIlroy at No. 1 with Open win

ST ANDREWS (Scotland) • A target that Jordan Spieth thought, at the start of the year, was well out of his range suddenly seems as accessible as a drivable par four.

The American won his second consecutive start and his fourth title this year on Sunday at the John Deere Classic to move closer to golf's summit.

If he extends his winning streak this weekend at the British Open at St Andrews, he will supplant Rory McIlroy as the world No. 1.

He will also become the first player since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win the first three legs of the Grand Slam in a calendar year.

At the John Deere Classic, Spieth's first competitive event since his victory at the US Open and his only tune-up before heading to St Andrews' Old Course, he closed with a three-under 68 to tie Tom Gillis at 20-under.

Spieth, 21, defeated Gillis, a 46-year-old who has not won on the PGA Tour, with a par on the second hole of sudden death.

With McIlroy, 26, sidelined indefinitely with a badly sprained left ankle, the second-ranked Spieth's coronation feels like a mere formality.

Nobody on any tour has played better this season than Spieth, who has 11 top-10 finishes in 17 starts, not counting victories last December against quality fields at the Australian Open and the Hero World Challenge.

The Texan became the second-youngest winner of the Masters after Tiger Woods in April and last month became the youngest to triumph at the US Open since Bobby Jones in 1923.

If nothing else, the golf-proud people of Scotland are not likely to repeat the mistake that was made during the Ryder Cup last September at Gleneagles, where Spieth made his first appearance on the practice range and hit balls in front of a placard that read "SPEITH".

Everybody in the game now knows Spieth's name. And in his quest to become the first player in the modern era to win all four Majors in the same year, he has built a following in golf that transcends its core audience, much as Tiger Woods did at the same age.

Woods, 39, won two of his 14 Majors on the storied Old Course: in 2000, at age 24, and again in 2005.

He is entered this week, but as he struggles to regain his form, the generation inspired by his success is rushing in to fill the vacuum created by his two-year victory drought.

On Sunday alone, Spieth prevailed in Silvis, Illinois; Rickie Fowler, 26, won his second title of the year, at the Scottish Open; and Pan Cheng-tsung, 23, of Chinese Taipei won on the Canadian PGA Tour in his fourth professional start.

And then there is McIlroy, who has three worldwide victories this year and was considered the peerless son a mere 11 months ago when he won the British Open, Bridgestone Invitational and PGA Championship in consecutive starts.

"I didn't think at the beginning of the year I would have a chance to get there this year," Spieth said, referring to the No. 1 ranking.

He has played the Old Course only once. But he won the US Open on a links-style course, and his confidence is such that he believes if you have won on one links-style course, you can also do so on the most historic one of all.

"The only downside here versus playing anywhere else," Spieth said before the tournament, "is just the adjustment to the time zone."

"But as long as I get over there and I have my schedule ahead of time, I'm going to have enough sleep by the time I tee it up on Thursday," he added.

Enough sleep, Spieth hopes, to realise his dreams of being No. 1.

NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2015, with the headline 'No Spieth limit in drive to St Andrews'. Print Edition | Subscribe