By DOUG FERGUSON
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Tuesday, July 17, 2018
CARNOUSTIE, SCOTLAND -- Jordan Spieth figured someone from the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews would be waiting for him when he pulled into the parking lot at Carnoustie to take back the silver claret jug. Instead, he was part of a ceremony with enough pomp to drive home the point.
His reign as British Open champion was over.
"The traditions of the Open are very special," Spieth said, "even if you're on the wrong end of that one."
This "tradition" is only a few years old, although typical of the august manner of this major, nothing was left to chance. Spieth was to arrive in a car provided by one of the R&A's sponsors, and as it drove slowly down a dirt path behind the grandstands on the first hole, cameras moved into position. The door opened and a woman slowly emerged from the back seat. That's where Spieth would be sitting. This was just a rehearsal to make sure the cameras had the right angle.
Moments later, an R&A employee asked people sitting in the right portion of the grandstands to move to the other side so it would appear fuller.
"It's the coolest trophy that our sport has to offer," Spieth said. "So having to return that was certainly difficult" It's far more enjoyable to pose with golf's oldest trophy - it was first awarded in 1873 - at the 18th hole on Sunday, not the first hole on Monday. That's the task that awaits Spieth, and it figures to be a monumental one.
Only four players in the past 50 years have repeated as British Open champions, the most recent being Padraig Harrington in 2008.
More than history, it's the nature of Carnoustie that figures to be the stiffest challenge - or at least on Monday, the most mysterious one. A dry summer has turned the links into a combination of brown (fairways), yellow (wispy rough) and green on the tee boxes and putting surfaces.
That translates into the fastest conditions at an Open since Tiger Woods won at Hoylake in 2006.
That was the year Woods hit only one driver - yes, he missed the fairway - and relied mainly on long irons off the tee because the golf ball was running forever.
Early samples indicate this may be just the opposite.
Because the rough isn't up, and because it's difficult to judge how far shots will roll out on the fairways, the answer may be to just smash driver over the trouble. Jon Rahm said he planned to hit driver every day on the 396-yard opening hole.
Tommy Fleetwood, who shot 63 at a much different Carnoustie last year during the Dunhill Links Championship, was most perplexed when he reached the 350yard third hole. It usually is a midiron off the tee and a wedge to the green. Now, it's more like a 6-iron off the tee. Or maybe a 7-iron. And even that's not safe, because the undulations in the fairway could send the ball rolling until a pot bunker gets in the way.
The other challenge facing Spieth is this minislump he's in.
He would not have imagined when he left Royal Birkdale last year with that wild finish and his name on the jug that he wouldn't hoist another trophy. His only close call this year came in the Masters, where he started the final round nine shots behind Patrick Reed and nearly caught him until a bogey on the last hole for a 64.
He finished third.
Since then, Spieth has not been closer than 12 shots off the lead in four of the seven tournaments in which he made it to the weekend.
He missed the cut at Shinnecock Hills in the U.S. Open, opened with a 63 at the Travelers Championship and still tied only for 42nd, and then took a break.
He went to Seattle to watch his little sister be a cheerleader at the U.S. Special Olympics, and then headed to the Mexico beaches for relaxation and fun golf.
"I needed a break," he said. "I was kind of dragging along, cutline golf for a whole and playing a pretty heavy schedule. ... And coming to an Open Championship requires a lot of feel and imagination, and I think that's what I needed a bit of in my game."
And that's what he most likely needs this week to figure out Carnoustie, along with everyone else.
Jordan Spieth tracks his shot during a British Open practice round in Carnoustie, Scotland, on Monday. This year's tournament is likely to have the fastest course conditions at an Open since 2006.