Was there anything that surprised you about the tournament?
I thought the scoring would be a lot lower than last year. I appreciate there were a few 65’s, and Haotong Li had a phenomenal final round of 63. I think he was about 1000/1 before the tournament started. When he had the clubhouse lead for a while on Sunday I thought, just maybe. But overall, it was a balanced tournament that only pulled away at the end.
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You tipped Jordan Spieth to win in your preview, and he delivered. What made you pick him?
The reason I thought Jordan Spieth would do well was simply his momentum coming into The Open. He was doing well in the PGA Tour – had won two tournaments and was well up in the FedEx standings – so all the signs pointed to a strong showing.
Admittedly, he got off to a poor start on the last day. He was unlucky with his tee shot, and I think that unsettled him. It was a good swing off the first tee, but the ball hung up on that banking on the left. It could easily have bounced down to the ideal position, yet it stubbornly didn’t. I’m sure he was a little nervous – as many players seemed to be.
You could easily argue that for the first 12 holes, he didn’t play like an Open Champion. Bad tee shots, poor putts – it just wasn’t going for him. However, the 13th seemed to transform him – he ran the gauntlet in a single hole. From the wild tee shot to the right, where he was lucky to find the ball, all the kerfuffle with the rulings and delays – he then hit an incredible up and down to scramble a bogey.
At that point, something changed. He thought “Well, I’m only one behind Kuchar here despite not playing well at all” and moved into another gear. Like all great champions, he played the holes that were important well – holed crucial putts when it mattered in the final few and won. All the way along, I never thought he was out of it. Particularly as his nearest rival, Matt Kuchar, is perhaps the most prolific Top 10 player in the world but hasn’t won a tournament in three years. When you remind yourself of that, it seemed only a matter of time before Spieth came roaring back.
Jack Nicklaus mentioned that the 13th hole seemed to be Spieth’s turning point.
Spieth was under massive pressure on the 13th, both players were – they were already on the clock and even more so once Jordan fired his wayward tee shot. Thankfully, they had a walking referee with them and he handled it excellently. I think it also helped that John Paramor, the chief referee, was there too, and Spieth was offered all the options – going back to the tee and everything else.
What Jack Nicklaus means is that there’s a moment in every round that offers a potential turning point. Sergio found it when he holed that crucial putt at the Masters, and Spieth got his when his ball flew up and over that bunker. Having played well all week, he found that game again on the 14th tee.
With so many delays on the 13th, will playing partner Matt Kuchar be unhappy about the way it panned out?
They were speaking to each other while the delay was happening. Even when the two left the green, it seemed as if Matt Kuchar said “well done” to Spieth – a very sporting gesture in recognition of Spieth’s miraculous escape with only a bogey. I think Kuchar also realised that with two referees present, they were doing their best to be fair to everyone – himself included. Of course, he might have been frustrated that events took so long, and he will have been disappointed not to win – but I don’t think he attached any blame directly to Jordan, he understood that occasionally – that’s golf.
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Next up is the year’s final major – the USPGA. Are you backing Spieth to win again?
Well, it’s good to see that Spieth is already talking about completing his grand slam – it shows desire and confidence – the same way that Rory always talks about the Masters.
However, the point to consider is that Spieth winning the US PGA is a much easier task than Rory winning the Masters. With the Masters, your putting has to be pinpoint for the whole week. With the US PGA, it’s usually on a straightforward course and is historically a tournament where, with the greatest respect, ‘lesser’ players have won. David Love III, for instance, got his only major there – and it’s the easiest to win.
For those reasons, Jordan can aim to win it without necessarily putting as much pressure on himself. He’s only 24. If he doesn’t win it this year, I have no doubt he will win it another year. To him, it’s just another PGA event.
As for who I really think will win the US PGA, I would say Rory McIlroy. This week, it looks as if he’s turned his game and his season around. He was struggling early on, but came into his own at the weekend. Take the final round, for instance. Despite being unlucky enough to lose his ball into a gorse bush off the tee, he recovered to still get a birdie – which just shows how much his confidence had grown over the four days!
What changed for Rory over the weekend?
He had a tough draw for starters. He went in under pressure after missing his last three cuts, and when it counted, his game came back to him. He essentially got tested to his limits, and when he started making shots – it all came rushing back. He’s driving well and putting better than ever – which is why I fancy him to do well at the US PGA.
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Do you think his caddie’s words helped?
His caddie clearly gave him a pep talk on the 6th tee. They have a very close relationship, Rory and JP Fitzgerald. He’s the only caddie Rory has ever had as a professional – and he doesn’t often say much. So, for him to turn round and essentially say, “you’re Rory McIlroy – get a grip” will have shocked Rory, and clearly snapped him out of whatever slump he was in at the time. He holed a crucial putt at the 8th and didn’t look back. We spoke about the role of a modern caddie recently – and JP fits the description. When JP speaks, Rory listens. He knows it was said for his own good, and it worked.
Jack Nicklaus also suggested more golfers should play seaside links golf. Do you agree?
Of course I agree with Jack. Seaside courses in Britain offer a completely different dimension to playing golf than anywhere else – they take a bit of playing. What I think he means is that to be a complete golfer, you need to win on a seaside links. American golfers have always done well here, despite not having many opportunities. It seems to suit their game. But it will always be a badge of honour for any golfer.
What did you think of the British and European performances at The Open – with a view to next year’s Ryder Cup?
Rory did well, Rafa Cabrera-Bello did well, Matthew Southgate did exceptionally well, not to mention Paul Casey, Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter and Chris Wood and several more. There’s a great deal of optimism in the European ranks, and so there should be. However, Kucher and Spieth being so far out on their own does suggest there is more work to do.
Will Tommy Fleetwood be disappointed with his tournament?
It’s understandable he was under pressure. He was coming in as the home favourite, as well as coming tied-fourth in the US Open. For me, he did very well just to qualify. The 76 to start with put him a way back to start off, but his other three rounds were very good – 69, 66, 70. Anyone would be proud of that.
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One negative note from the weekend was the distasteful comments that came out of TalkSport about Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston, causing him to fire back on Twitter. Were the comments fair?
First of all, let’s get something straight. Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston, is very good for the game. He’s a good player, he likes to interact with the crowd and the fans. People like him. To be honest, those throwing stones are seeing the wrong side of him.
When commentators step outside of their sports comfort zone to comment on players, it puts them in very dangerous water to be honest. If anything, it proves how ignorant they are of golf and what the sport needs. Do your homework before laying into someone.
What’s more, he’s a genuinely nice guy. He hasn’t had a privileged upbringing, whatever he’s got, he’s worked hard for. He didn’t have scholarships, and he’s enormously genuine. When he needed his PGA Tour card last year, he scrapped at the Web.com tournament on the final weekend to make it. It sums up what’s wrong with some elements of sports punditry these days when one of the best-liked guys on Tour is targeted for his enthusiasm. There’s always a focus on negativity. It’s deliberate and it’s sad.
However, the reaction of plenty of golfers defending him is encouraging – and I hope more do.