All eyes will fall upon American Jordan Spieth and his pursuit of the 144th British Open title when first-round action begins early Thursday morning at St. Andrews in Scotland. The 21-year-old Texas native is the hottest golfer on the tour, and a 9/2 favorite, picking up the Masters and U.S. Open already, and in contention for the sport’s first Grand Slam in the current era.
But Spieth, who has only played the Open course four times before, faces an uphill battle against some of golf’s biggest names and most experienced veterans. Spieth will start his first round paired with Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, and fellow American and contender Dustin Johnson.
Spieth wrapped up his fourth victory of the year by finishing 12-under at the John Deere Classic last week, and while the potential of winning the third major of his career in the same calendar year is on his mind, he told USA Today he’s focused on history.
"I like to study the history of golf, and I think it's extremely special what this year has brought to our team. And to have a chance to do what only one other person in the history of golf has done doesn't come around very often," Spieth said Wednesday. "I'm sure embracing that opportunity, but by the time I start on Thursday, it won't be in my head. It'll be about how can I bring this Open Championship down to just another event, and get out there and try and get myself into contention.
"I don't look as this as trying to win three in a row. I look at this as trying to win the Open at a very special place. The hardest thing for me is trying to forget about where you are because being here at St. Andrews and looking at the past champions and who wins Open Championships here, that's elite company, and that's something I'm just going to have to forget about."
Spieth did receive some criticism and questions about his decision to defend his John Deere title rather than head to Scotland early and battle Rickie Fowler. Fowler improved his standing among the Open favorites by shooting 12-under at Gullane for his first win of the season. Last year the 26-year-old came ever so close to his first slam but finished tied for second at the Open.
Fowler and Spieth represent golf’s newest generation, and No. 1 Rory McIlroy would be right beside them if not for the severe ankle injury that forced him to pull out of the tournament last week.
Those rising stars must contend with several former winners in this year’s field, including 2013 champ Phil Mickelson, 2010’s Louis Oosthuizen, and perhaps even three-time Open titleholder Tiger Woods.
Woods, 39, has yet to finish in the top 10 in any event this season and will hope to erase the memory of his missed cut at the U.S. Open last month. Woods most recently came in 32nd place with a 7-under finish at the Greenbrier Classic last week, by far his best all-around performance this season. Woods will start the tournament paired with South Africa’s Oosthuizen and Australia’s Jason Day.
Start Time: The first round begins at 1:30 a.m. ET, but television coverage won’t start until 4 a.m. and lasts until 3 p.m.
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Online: A live stream is available for featured groups and the Road Hole at Watch ESPN
Key Tee Times (All Times Eastern Standard)
Tom Watson, Ernie Els, Brandt Snedeker at 3:33 a.m.
Bubba Watson, Ian Poulter, Charl Schwartzel at 4 a.m.
Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama, Dustin Johnson at 4:33 a.m.
Jason Day, Tiger Woods, Louis Oosthuizen at 4:55 a.m.
Jason Dufner, Miguel Angel Jimenez, John Daly at 7:50 a.m.
Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Jimmy Walker at 9:12 a.m.
Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson, Matt Kuchar at 9:34 a.m.
Justin Rose, Nick Faldo, Rickie Fowler at 9:45 a.m.
The full list of tee times can be viewed at the tournament’s official site here.