SOUTHPORT, England – Jordan Spieth is leading The Open. He’s 6 under par, two shots clear of the field following a gritty 69 on a windy and wet day along the Irish Sea. He was lucky.
Given Friday’s conditions and his play relative to the rest of the field, the 23-year-old’s play should be appreciated, cheered even. He avoided the kind of links pitfalls that awaited so many of his frat brothers, like the fate of his friend Justin Thomas, who might still be playing the sixth hole from the thick hay if not for a merciful drop that led to a quintuple-bogey 9.
Spieth converted crucial putts when he had to, largely kept his emotions in check and finds himself atop a Grand Slam field after a round for the 12th time since the beginning of 2015.
But make no mistake - he was lucky.
He was lucky that Friday’s forecast, an apocalyptic outlook that called for a 100 percent chance of rain and the kind of wind that turns decent shots into disasters, never materialized.
“I would have gladly stayed on the couch. I was watching the coverage this morning and for even par I'd still be there right now,” he smiled. “I knew it was going to get windy. It was up to 95 percent by 4 [p.m.], chance of rain 100 percent 4 or 5 [p.m.].”
Instead, Spieth and the other afternoon starters were met with only periodic bouts of showers, with one particularly strong deluge causing a short suspension of play, and gusts that eased to more manageable levels than those faced by players in the early wave.
He was lucky at the 10th hole when he chipped in for par after making a mess of the par 4.
“Obviously stole one there,” he said.
He was lucky at No. 15 when he caught his 3-wood second shot from the first cut of rough off the heel of the clubhead, but watched in amusement as his ball trundled around a pot bunker to 20 feet.
“I mis-hit the shot, which is probably why it looked so gross on the ShotTracker,” he acknowledged. “It just one-hop scooted around the group of bunkers there, and then it was obviously fortunate to get all the way to the green and keep on going towards the green instead of over towards the left bunker.”
Spieth easily admitted that luck played a factor in his round, but then he also understands that luck has a tendency to favor the prepared.
He was poised, for example, to endure anything and everything Mother Nature had in store for him despite starting the day secure in the knowledge that he’d probably ended up on the wrong side of this week’s draw.
Instead, he caught a break. Call it luck, fate, karma, whatever you want, because even though Spieth knew fortune smiled on him on Day 2, he’s also keenly aware that those kinds of bounces are worthwhile only if you take advantage of them, and he did.
After making the turn in 1 over for the day and tied for the lead with Matt Kuchar at 4 under, Spieth followed his chip-in at No. 10 with a 35-footer for birdie at the 11th and a tee shot to tap-in range at the 12th. Although he stumbled with bogeys at No. 14 after finding a greenside bunker and the 16th where he three-putted, the world’s third-ranked player finished with a hard-fought 69.
“To chip in for par after being in trouble on 10, and then he holes a 35-footer or something for birdie across the green and then hits it stiff on the next,” said Henrik Stenson, who was paired with Spieth on Friday. “That could have easily been three, four shots difference over those three holes. If it’s your week and you’re going to be up there, a lot of times you need one of those kind of momentum keepers.”
There have been so many accolades heaped on Spieth over the years – endearing, focused, thoughtful – but the one trait that stood out on Friday on his way to the halfway-house lead was how resolute he remained throughout a difficult day.
“I felt like we were toughened a bit by today,” Spieth said. “My patience wore a bit thin around the turn. I was able to regroup.”
Although this is just his fifth Open Championship, the links learning curve for Spieth has been fast-tracked, highlighted by his near miss two years ago at St. Andrews when he finished a stroke out of a playoff, and a Friday 75 in similarly brutal conditions last year at Royal Troon.
“We played in that afternoon on Friday in the worst stuff I've ever played in. It was just absolutely sheets of sideways rain is how I described it,” he recalled. “I thought that was very important last year going through it. I actually talked to [caddie Michael Greller] a bit about it during the round; this isn't even how bad it was at Troon. We've got spots to play out here that we can hit greens from.”
At this rate, Spieth will likely need a little more luck to add the claret jug to his major portfolio. He managed to find just four of 14 fairways on Friday and ranks 124th this week in driving accuracy. On a links course like Royal Birkdale that kind of wayward play can catch up to you quickly.
But he proved on Friday that he’s prepared to take advantage of those fortunate bounces, and that’s the most important part of being lucky.