Four-time major winner McIlroy is unable to defend the title he won at Royal Liverpool last year and will have to watch the action unfold at the Home of Golf after rupturing ankle ligaments during a kickabout with his mates 10 days ago.
Faldo, 57, thinks that is a great shame, denying the golfing public an opportunity to see the greatest golfers of their generation go head to head as world number two Spieth attempts to win a third consecutive major following his Masters and US Open wins earlier in the season and line up a shot at an historic calendar Grand Slam.
Yet the six-time major-winning Englishman, whose five-stroke Open victory at St Andrews in 1990 was achieved with an 18-under-par 270 that was then the championship’s lowest winning total in relation to par until Tiger Woods beat it in 2000, also at St Andrews, said yesterday he thought McIlroy would be “kicking himself” not to be competing this week with the Old Course set-up and conditions likely to have suited the Irishman’s game perfectly.
“What we want is a showdown between Jordan and maybe Rickie Fowler, as well.... but that’s what we’re missing. So that’s a huge disappointment,” Faldo said.
“Obviously Rory had a serious opportunity, the way he drives the golf ball, because as we know, the length these guys are hitting; it’s playing a little tougher than I thought, but if it had been a little firmer, you know you’ll get on the fifth hole in two. They’re going to either drive 9 or 10 depending on the wind, they’re going to drive 12. 14, they’ll get there in two, and 18. So if you’re driving the ball really well, you are there or very close to six holes under regulation.
“So he must be kicking himself, as long as he doesn’t injure it,” he joked. “Hey, boys will be boys. They want to go and play, and he had a weird and wonderful accident. I hope he gets himself fully fit and strong. It’s unfortunate with an injury like that, he’s got to get himself 100% fit before he can start the comeback. But not the sort of thing you’d expect to happen, but it’s happened. I feel for Rory.”
Faldo will play an Open at St Andrews for the last time this week, briefly reuniting with his one-time caddy Fanny Sunesson before his son Matthew takes over the bag. Of his game he admitted “even the rust is rusty” but a quarter of a century ago he had gone into The Open as Masters champion and had he won a play-off at the US Open the previous month he might well have been in the same position as Spieth finds himself this week, on the brink of history.
Despite Spieth’s lack of preparation on links courses, the American preferring to stay home in the US and play the John Deere Classic last weekend, winning the title in a play-off, Faldo believes the 21-year-old Texan has every chance of completing the third leg of the Slam this week. “You can tell Jordan is happy with the way he’s doing things,” Faldo said. “It’s amazing, when you’re that young, you’d say, one good night’s sleep to get over jet lag and he’ll probably be fine tomorrow morning, and especially coming off a win and shooting scores like that.
“So if he believes that’s the way to do it, then that’s the way to do it. That’s the way Jordan Spieth wants to do it, and guess what, it’s right.
“What he’s doing is phenomenal. One of the things I spotted a year ago, is how well he works with his caddie Mike (Grella). They’ve got their own little formula and great belief in what they’re doing. And he’s confident. He’s seeing the right shot, he’s visualising the shot, they’ve got their game plan, and they go and do it. I mean, and he keeps churning out good shots. When you’re doing that, you just jump back on the saddle and ride again. That’s what he’s doing.”