Jordan Spieth is battling but Grand Slam hopes remain alive

American made some miraculous saves on the way to a 66 on day two at Bellerive

Jordan Spieth jogs after his shot on the 15th hole during the second round of the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St Louis, Missouri. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Jordan Spieth jogs after his shot on the 15th hole during the second round of the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St Louis, Missouri. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

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A stealth mission of sorts unfolded. Jordan Spieth’s drive on the 15th, his sixth hole of the day, took off like a rogue exocet missile and veered wickedly off course. As Spieth watched in horror, it was Jon Rahm who took it on himself to roar a warning to those in the firing line. “Fore! Left!” came the no-nonsense alarm call as spectators ducked for cover.

As it happened, the ball found whatever gaps there were between branches and leaves and missed the tree trunks entirely to settle in an area trampled down by the spectators. Spieth has been in worse spots in his time. Still, the task of recovery – for the only man in this PGA Championship field with an opportunity to complete the career Grand Slam – was to show how his mind ticks. Slowly perhaps, but with precision.

In discussing his options with caddie Michael Greller, a tough shot under the tree limbs to the green, Spieth became aware of another obstacle. It was in the shape of a photographer who, brave or foolhardy, had positioned himself in a spot to take the picture of pictures.

“I’m telling you please don’t,” said Spieth as the photographer stayed in position. “It’s not a camera thing. I can’t look up into that (when playing the shot),” he added of the distraction.

Rahm of Spain reacts after saving a par on the eighth. Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Rahm of Spain reacts after saving a par on the eighth. Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Spieth won the argument of course, the photographer missed out on his shot, and he proceeded to produce a superbly executed recovery shot from out of the woods onto the green. He’d averted a possible disaster and kept a bogey-free round going. Even when he hit a loose drive on the 17th, into the hazard, Spieth was able to keep on track to rescue a par. As it happened, he would stay bogey-free for the entire round in shooting a 66 that moved him to a midway total of three-under-par 137.

Still with work to do, for sure, but that quest for the Slam very much alive for Spieth. “I need something really special, but again just trying to progress each day,” he acknowledged of having to play catch-up over the weekend.

There was an edge of frustration too. Which had more to do with the softer conditions, especially on the greens, that have enabled the bombers to fire at the flags at will. “You can just fire in and you get away with more, you don’t have to be as precise. That’s frustrating in a Major championship because typically what it does is you don’t really have to be as precise on and around the greens. That’s frustrating to me because I feel like that’s an advantage that I have. So personally I would prefer more difficult and firmer faster conditions on the greens,” he said.

“Last year at this time my setup was just coming natural to me, which it does for 90 percent of the guys, it’s coming natural all the time. I’m just in that unfortunate position where I have to feel awkward when I’m over (the ball) before I even start the swing so through the swing it feels even more awkward. Today was a really solid day. But I need better each day on the weekend to have a chance.”

In a standout three-ball which also featured Justin Rose and Rahm, all three kept on course if at a distance from the leader. Rose was the only one to incur a bogey, and at times his distance play was untypically out-of-sorts, but the Spaniard kept his cool – even when standing on his own ball in the rough on the eighth, his 17th – to stay bogey-free. Rose shot 69 for 146, Rahm 67 for 135.

“The crowd’s been brilliant to play in front of,” said Rose. “Obviously this time of year you do get a lot of Ryder Cup on people’s minds. In some cities we go to they sometimes can cross the line a little bit. Especially playing with Jordan, two European guys playing with Jordan, who is obviously maybe not a hometown favourite, but with the Grand Slam in every everyone’s mind he’s a huge favourite.”

And that chance for Spieth is still there . . . . but there is a lot of work to do.

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