Saturday, September 22, 2018

Jordan Spieth takes lead at British Open

SOUTHPORT, England — Jordan Spieth expected a rough time at the British Open on Friday before he even got to the course.

He spent the morning at his rented house in front of the television, watching players battle a relentless wind at Royal Birkdale, while checking a forecast that was even worse for when he played in the afternoon.

"It wasn't a great feeling knowing we were coming into something harder than what we were watching," he said.

Spieth did more than just survive. With a short game as sharp as it has been all year, he seized control with 1-under 69 that gave him a two-shot lead at 6-under 134 over Matt Kuchar (71) going into the weekend.

It was the 12th time Spieth had been atop the leaderboard at a major, including the fourth rounds of the Masters and U.S. Open he won in 2015. Spieth — who shared the lead with Kuchar and Brooks Koepka after the first round — was the sole leader at a major for the first time since the third round of last year's Masters. He ended up runnerup to Danny Willett.

"Any time you're in the last group on a weekend in a major … you get nervous. And I'll be feeling it this weekend a bit," he said. "But I enjoy it. As long as I approach it positively and recognize that this is what you want to feel because you're in the position you want to be in, then the easier it is to hit solid shots and to create solid rounds."

Kuchar played in the morning in steadily strong wind but without rain and pieced together a solid round until a few mistakes at the end.

"I think that's what people enjoy about the British Open is watching the hard wind, the rain, the guys just trying to survive out there," Kuchar said. "I get to kick back in the afternoon and watch the guys just try to survive."

At 3 under were U.S. Open champion and former Florida State golfer Koepka, who failed to make a birdie but stayed in the hunt with 72, and Ian Poulter (70) with his newfound confidence, which is growing even higher with the crowd support in his native country.

Not to be overlooked was Rory McIlroy, who recovered from a terrible start Thursday to salvage 71, then kept on rolling. McIlroy ran off three birdies with full control of every shot on the front nine Friday.

And like Spieth, he kept his round together with crucial par saves early on the back nine when the wind was at its worst. McIlroy shot 68 and was 1 under with only five players in front of him. "To be … under par for this championship after the way I started, I'm ecstatic with that," he said.

Not everyone got off so easy.

Justin Thomas, who started the second round two shots behind, drove into the gorse on the first hole and had double bogey. But that wasn't as bad as the sixth hole, where he tried three times to hammer out of the thick native grass well right of the fairway. He couldn't find the ball after the third one, and he wound up with quintuple-bogey 9. Thomas shot 80 and missed the 5-over cut at 7 over.

"Some of the hardest conditions I've ever played in," he wrote on Twitter.

Then there was Phil Mickelson, who had four birdies, eight bogeys and a triple, shot 77 and at 10 over missed his first cut of the year. "I missed it with flair," he said.

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