No fear as Spieth preps for US Open title defence
Jordan Spieth went down in flames in his first major title defence at the Masters, but he’s ready to contend again at the US Open, with the help of a morale-building victory at Colonial.
Spieth, 22, became just the sixth golfer to win both the Masters and US Open titles in the same season in a breakout 2015 campaign that propelled him to the top of the world golf rankings.
He looked headed for more of the same in 2016 with a PGA Tour Tournament of Champions win in January, but an astonishing collapse at the Masters — where he blew a five-shot lead heading into the back nine on Sunday — was a brutal reminder of mortality.
Spieth insisted he was bouncing back, but he acknowledged Monday as he prepared to launch his US Open title defence that a US PGA Tour win at Colonial Country Club in May had got him over the hump for good.
“That was a huge week for us, especially to win before any of the next majors,” Spieth said, adding that the victory freed him from any lingering doubts about his ability to close out a tournament.
Spieth fired a five-under par final round, with birdies at the last three holes, to win a first US PGA Tour title in his home state.
“I think if you’re coming off a recent win, getting back into contention is a more natural state,” he said. “If you’re coming off kind of a heartbreaking loss, getting back into contention can be fearful, and you’ve just got to push through the fear.
“When I say ‘the fear’ the potential for bad memories to pop up. And I feel like we got through that (at Colonial).”
– Formidable Oakmont –
Doubts could be devastating this week on the formidable Oakmont Country Club course, hosting the US Open for a record ninth time. The rugged par-70, 7,219-yard course north of Pittsburgh is reckoned by many the toughest to host the championship.
Spieth’s winning total last year at first-time venue Chambers Bay was five under par, while the last US Open at Oakmont, in 2007, was won by Angel Cabrera with a five-over total.
“I don’t think anyone’s going to be in the red come 72 holes,” Spieth said.
World number one Jason Day, keen to add more major titles to the PGA Championship he won last year, heads a field of 156 that counts world number three and 2011 Rory McIlroy, two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson and newly crowned Masters champ Danny Willett among the contenders.
“It will be a challenge, but I’m certainly looking forward to it,” Spieth said.
Last year at Chambers Bay, Spieth entered the final round tied for the lead with Dustin Johnson, Day and South African Branden Grace.
Spieth’s birdie at the 72nd hole saw Johnson arrive at 18 needing an eagle to win and a birdie to force a playoff.
Johnson missed a 12-foot eagle putt — then failed to hole the four-footer coming back.
Spieth said his experience at the Masters in April had given him even more empathy for Johnson’s agony.
“I think Augusta helped me realize my feelings for not only my US Open win but also the other side of things,” Spieth said.
He added that Johnson’s miscue at Chambers Bay didn’t diminish his own feeling of accomplishment, just as he didn’t think his ugly quadruple bogey on the 12th hole of Augusta National should detract from Englishman Danny Willett’s ultimate Masters triumph.
“There’s no pictures on scorecards,” Spieth said. “You just count them up at the end of 72… Ultimately when I look back I don’t remember Dustin’s putt, I remember us winning the US Open.”