Given his own extraordinary level of expectation, Jordan Spieth would have been somewhat worried about his form coming into the US Masters this week.
No one was publicly saying anything about it but even to the innocent observer, it was obvious that he was a long way off the required standards of performance he has set for himself over the past year.
No one doubts how fickle golf can be at times but no one either should underestimate a champion’s mindset.
Spieth had plenty of reasons to complain this week — the media distractions associated with being a defending champion, the distraction of having to host the Champion’s dinner, a hugely distracting moment yesterday when the face of his driver (which he has been using for the past two years) cracked and hurriedly had to be replaced before finally receiving a weather forecast that threatened to blow the defence of his title off-course.
Time and again, we have learned that Jordan Spieth is no ordinary player, and he proved how special he is once again yesterday.
On a cold, breezy morning Spieth, who led from start to finish last year, set about laying some very solid foundations for the retention of his Masters title by effortlessly embracing every challenge the course threw at him.
In doing so, this teak tough competitor would have taken delight in also squeezing some of the air out of the lungs of the rest of the field, rendering many of them “also-rans” in just a few short hours of play. In the end a round of 66, consisting of six birdies and no bogeys, represents a phenomenal start on a tough course.
Of course Rome wasn’t built in one day and the more experienced players going out later in the day would have experienced great players building big leads early on before. Now was not the time to press the panic button!
It was time to remain focused on the job of building a position of strength at this stage, conscious of the fact that regardless of how well they played, they couldn’t win the tournament on the first day but they sure could lose it.
If Spieth had any advantage starting early, then it was that he played a course softened by overnight rain in 10mph winds, whereas the later starters faced 20 mph gusting winds on a rapidly drying course that bore no resemblance to the practice day rounds.
Talk to any professional and they will tell you that they all crave consistency, so there is nothing that they detest more than gusting winds they can’t judge or firm greens where they can’t control the bounce or spin of the ball or the pace of the putts. Why? Because it challenges their pride.
Hell, they are used to practising “precision” on the ranges and the perfectly manicured courses all around the world every day. They play the game by numbers — less so by feel and creativity. Just look at the tour these days. It’s predominantly about power and clubhead speed.
Sure, the best are super talented but they are not the shot makers of old — like Seve Ballesteros or Lee Trevino — because power more often than not nowadays trumps creativity... but not on a firm Augusta nor indeed for that matter on our own links courses.
And so, if the weather forecast of high winds over the coming days proves accurate, then it is very much to Spieth’s advantage given his strong start, his short game skills, his long-range putting, and his proven dexterity in terms of changing his game plan mid-round in order to stay competitive.
McIlroy, Day, Scott, and Lowry in particular have all grown up on links type courses and are all well used to windy conditions but it remains to be seen if they can demonstrate the same patience and strength of character as Spieth to be counted as realistic challengers for this years US Masters title.
My hunch is that despite Spieth’s magnificent efforts today he will not have it all his own way this year. There are too many form players in the field and of course one stealthy foe Augusta National, patiently biding its time in the long grass waiting to strike.
BallTalk TV - The Masters 2016
BallTalk TV - Augusta national
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