2021 British Open scores: Jordan Spieth lights up Royal St. George's eyeing first major since 2017
Maybe Jordan Spieth's name and career have become synonymous with the wrong major venue. Augusta National has been considered his domain and the Masters his event. It was less a matter of whether he would win multiple green jackets and more a matter of who would someday be the one hitting ceremonial tee shot alongside him early Thursday morning.
However, it's possible we've had the wrong tournament pegged as Spieth's area of expertise all along. Maybe it's jugs and not jackets Spieth is going to collect over the next 15 years. That seemed to be the case Thursday when he went out and shot an early 65 at Royal St. George's in Round 1, moving in and out of the lead over his first 18 holes at the last major of 2021.
It started inconspicuously with an early bogey at the third before he ripped off four straight birdies to close out a 32 on the front side. A clean card with two more birdies at Nos. 15 and 16 got him in the clubhouse at 5 under. He and Louis Oosthuizen (-6), the clubhouse leader Thursday morning, are the new favorites to win the 149th Open Championship.
This should not be surprising. Spieth discusses Opens the way I do Spieth himself -- with unadulterated joy.
Links golf is so different -- so other -- from what is normally played by professionals, and that can open up a part of you that maybe you forgot existed ... if you let it. Spieth lets it, and because of that, he is able to take on everything you're hit with at an Open Championship: the good, the bad, the dastardly.
"From the time I first came over here in 2007 or 2008, I've always loved links golf," Spieth told Golf Channel. "It has some similarities to growing up in Texas, playing in the wind, having to flight the ball, hit a lot of different shots. Then the imagination I've always like to have on and around the greens."
Since 2014, Spieth has not finished worse than T30 at this tournament, and that includes three top 10s and a win at Royal Birkdale in 2017. Even during his times of personal famine, he still feasted in the United Kingdom.
On-course Golf Channel reporter John Wood told a great story during Spieth's round on Thursday. Wood caddied for Matt Kuchar, who played with Spieth in the final round of that 2017 Open. When Spieth saw Wood on Thursday, he said, "This feels like Birkdale. I'm making putts and you're watching me."
Spieth has also been playing better golf so far this year than he did leading into that 2017 Open, his last major championship win. So while it might seem a bit jarring that Spieth is now clawing for a lead at the final major of the year without much real contention at the first three, it should not be if you were playing close attention. He hit it splendidly at both Augusta in April and then throughout most of the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island in May.
No putts were made like they were on Thursday at Royal St. George's.
"This place is tricky; it's a different one than the rest of them," Spieth said of the course's humps, hollows and hills. "You have to pinpoint where you're going to take advantage and where you have to recognize the scoring average is going to be over par. I think we did a really good job of that today."
Spieth has now given form to this Open Championship. Though he will not lead at the end of Round 1, he has given this championship its epicenter. That is always meaningful on the first day, and it's even more important because, well, it's Jordan Spieth. And when it comes to Jordan Spieth, almost anything can (and usually does) happen.
"I like being in contention at major championships," he said. "It's fun. I've fortunately been there a lot. I've done a little bit of everything from that position. That's what we play for."
Augusta and the linkslands of England and Scotland are more similar than they appear. You don't need to be a monster off the tee, but you do need to be brilliant and imaginative. The difference is that there is a lot more going on at Opens than there is at the Masters. It's less controlled. Weather, bizarre bounces and every possible situation and lie you could imagine. Spieth absorbs all of that and wrings out genius. There's a chaos to The Open that is congruent with the storm going on inside of him.
"I think it brings a lot of the feel aspect into the game," said Spieth. "I think I shorten swings up over here and hit more punch shots and just stuff that I probably should be doing at home. ... You get less swing-focused and more shot-focused over here because the second you take your brain off of what you're hitting, you may not find your ball. ... I guess to sum that up, there's a lot of external factors over here, and I think that external is where I need to be living."
The next three rounds will be all about everything externally orbiting this three-time major winner who will try to join Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy with four. I always thought No. 4 would come at Augusta National after the way he started his career there. Perhaps it still will, or perhaps it happens this week in southern England because perhaps we declared Spieth's dominion on the wrong major all along.
Rick Gehman and Kyle Porter break down and react to Thursday's action at the Open Championship. Follow & listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.