The Open Championship 2018

Spieth rediscovers 'itch'

Defending champion Jordan Spieth shakes hands with R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers as he hands back the Claret Jug ahead of the 147th Open Championship in Carnoustie.
Defending champion Jordan Spieth shakes hands with R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers as he hands back the Claret Jug ahead of the 147th Open Championship in Carnoustie.PHOTO: REUTERS

Rejuvenated American upbeat about title defence at Carnoustie; links golf suits Woods

CARNOUSTIE (Scotland) • Jordan Spieth feels he is back in the groove and capable of becoming the first player since Irishman Padraig Harrington in 2007-08 to win back-to-back Open Championships.

The 24-year-old and a swathe of fellow young Americans threatening to dominate the future of golf will also have to contend with a returning Tiger Woods - who is back competing at The Open after missing the cut in 2015.

Spieth has not won since his Open success last July, but he believes his game is back in place for the rigours of Carnoustie when battle commences today, having taken some time out to relax.

"I had the itch to get back to it after a couple of weeks of not really working and it was nice to kind of start from scratch," Spieth said at a press conference. "I feel like I'm in a position now with every part of my game, I attacked the places that really needed some strong work.

"That combination with an Open Championship, the way it needs to be played, I think, is a really good spot for me to kick back into shape."

His fellow compatriots like PGA champion Justin Thomas, 25, Masters winner Patrick Reed, 27, and Brooks Koepka, 28, who defended his US Open title last month, will also be fancying their chances.

  • TEE TIMES

  • 1ST/2ND RD (Selected, Gbr and Irl unless stated)

    1.57pm today/6.58pm tomorrow Danny Willett

    3.03pm/8.04pm Phil Mickelson (USA)

    4.58pm/9.59pm Jordan Spieth (USA), Justin Rose, Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha)

    5.09pm/10.10pm Jon Rahm (Esp), Rickie Fowler (USA)

    5.20pm/10.21pm Paul Casey, Patrick Reed (USA)

    7.31pm/2.30pm Henrik Stenson (Swe), Tommy Fleetwood

    7.53pm/2.52pm Rory McIlroy, Marc Leishman (Aus)

    8.04pm/3.03pm Dustin Johnson (USA), Alex Noren (Swe)

    8.26pm/3.25pm Justin Thomas (USA), Francesco Molinari (Ita)

    8.37pm/3.36pm Jason Day (Aus), Li Haotong (Chn)

    9.48pm/4.47pm Bubba Watson (USA)

    9.59pm/4.58pm Ian Poulter, Brooks Koepka (USA)

    10.10pm/5.09pm Sergio Garcia (Esp)

    10.21pm/5.20pm Tiger Woods (USA), Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn)

The return of Woods, who inspired many of the current Americans young stars to take up the sport, will be intriguing to see if the sea air awakens the genius in him. He said he has a special affinity with the challenge of playing links golf and believes if he is to add to his 14 Majors, it is probably going to be The Open as it suits ageing players - Tom Watson and Greg Norman both came close when in their 50s.

"As far as long-term, certainly I would say 'yes' because of the fact you don't have to be long to play on a links-style golf course," said Woods, 42, whose last of three Open titles came in 2006.

"You get to places like Augusta (The Masters) where it is a big ball park and the golf course outgrows you unfortunately. A links-style golf course you can just roll the ball."

In a Ryder Cup year, the European challenge looks weak by comparison - the last five Majors have been won by Americans.

Northern Irish star Rory McIlroy and England's Justin Rose look likeliest to be contenders. McIlroy will be desperate to end four years without a Major and disprove those who think even at just 29 the wow factor of earlier years has lost its sheen.

"I'll just treat it like any other event," McIlroy told Golf World.

"Prepare the way I normally do and go out and play and see what happens. I'm not putting any pressure on myself."

Rose believes this week's Open offers the ideal chance for Europe to begin addressing the imbalance with the Ryder Cup coming up in September in Paris.

"Yes," said the 37-year-old, whose only Major win was at the US Open in 2013, as to whether he could win. "It would be nice to get some good momentum for the Europeans going into the Ryder Cup.

"It's not like we're a mile behind. It's just they are on a great run, but there's no reason why a European player shouldn't come through this week."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 19, 2018, with the headline 'Spieth rediscovers 'itch''. Print Edition | Subscribe