- Jordan Spieth and Tommy Fleetwood are doing great. Tiger’s not in bad shape. The two top-ranked golfers, however, not so much.
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland — Two rounds down at the British Open and we have a tie for the lead at six under between Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner. We also have Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth and Tommy Fleetwood (more on those two later) close behind. Here are five thoughts from Friday’s round:
Jordan Spieth is not like the rest of us. Or the rest of them.
Spieth shot a 67 and is three under par. He would be four or five under if he hadn’t hit the wrong club on No. 15 Thursday, a decision for which he has repeatedly flogged himself. He may make a fool out of anybody who wrote on Thursday “it’s hard to believe this version of Spieth can pull off more magic this weekend.”
Uh, that was me.
Well, look: It would still be hard to believe—and yet, it could happen, because he is Jordan Spieth.
Here is why it would be hard to believe: Spieth said Friday that his swing is nowhere near where it was when he won at Royal Birkdale last year. He hasn’t won since. His putting was a mess for most of this year, though it is coming around. Everybody in golf expects Spieth to win big again. But an intelligent interpretation of all the available information is that he is not all the way back just yet.
Well, maybe he doesn’t have to be. His two favorite tournaments are the Masters and the British. Those are the ones that suit him best, and the ones he loves the most. We have all come to accept that Spieth can contend at the Masters regardless of the state of his game. Maybe we should view his British excursions the same way.
Wow, this place is fun. And wow, this place is brown.
Carnoustie truly looks like it has not rained since the 2007 Open here, which is weird because it actually rained quite a bit Friday. Before that, you could have set the whole place on fire by dropping one cigarette.
Even so, Carnoustie is a fine example of how a great course is great in pretty much any condition. The R&A has made sure the greens stay green, but other than that—take note here, USGA—there was no panic over the conditions, and no overcorrecting. If eight-irons roll to 250 yards, so what? The course is actually a bit shorter than it was for the 2007 Open.
One of the many cool aspects of these old courses is they seem so natural, as though the pot bunkers were there before anybody thought to play golf. No. 17 and No. 18 are so close together they look like the same hole. And I have yet to hear one fan act like a drunken idiot. (I did see two fans play-wrestle like drunken idiots, but at least they were in the dining area, not near a tee box.)
Enough with the nice words. Let’s talk about who had the worst day
We could go with David Duval, who withdrew due to injury after opening with an 80, or Darren Clarke, who dropped an 83 alongside his 82 Thursday. But nobody expected anything from either of them. They are ceremonial golfers, in spirit if not officially.
The worst day award is a tie, conveniently, between the No. 1 and No. 2 golfers in the world. Top-ranked Dustin Johnson birdied No. 16 to get to three-over; he needed to finish par-par to make the cut. He bogeyed No. 17 and doubled No. 18. See ya.
It is tempting to pin Johnson’s rough week on his choice to be aggressive with the driver, but that doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. He was five over par on the 18th hole alone. Most players hit drivers there. On Thursday Johnson hit his tee shot out of bounds there and wound up with a triple bogey. On Friday he needed birdie to get under the cut line; aggressiveness was the only way to go. Combine his 18th-hole nightmares with lousy putting—he had 60 putts in two days—and you see why he is gone.
The world No. 2, Justin Thomas, was rolling along just fine until he honored Magic Johnson on his front nine with a triple double. Yes: three straight double bogeys. Take those away, and Thomas is two under for the week. Of course, that’s not how golf works. Thomas finished at four over and missed the cut.
Can we get a round of applause for Tommy Fleetwood?
Seriously, how good is this guy? He finished four under at the Masters (though, admittedly, way off the lead), then fired a U.S. Open record 63 to nearly force a playoff with Brooks Koepka, and now he is one stroke behind Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner heading into the weekend at the British.
Of course we don’t know how Fleetwood’s weekend will go, or when he will win a major if he doesn’t win this week. Just know this, U.S. golf fans: When you see those flowing locks at Le Golf National for the Ryder Cup in September, you should be concerned.
Tiger Woods is getting closer. Really.
It is still ingrained in all our minds that Tiger is supposed to win—and he does very little to dissuade us. So we see Woods, and we wonder if he can contend, and when he doesn’t it feels like a failure.
But take the long view here. Eight months ago we weren’t sure he would play golf full-time again. He wasn’t terrible at the Masters but didn’t contend. He missed the cut at the U.S. Open. Now he is six strokes off the lead heading into the weekend. There will be questions about his putting until he answers them—and so far this week, he has not really answered them. But this has not been a bad week for him.
One subplot for the weekend is whether Woods can move up from No. 71 in the world into the top 50 and qualify for the World Golf Championship event at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, in August. He has won there eight times. This is the last year the WGC will be in Akron. He has said one of his goals is to make it there. He almost certainly needs a top-10 finish here to do it.