A target that Jordan Spieth thought, at the start of the year, was well out of his range suddenly seems as accessible as a drivable par 4. Spieth won his second consecutive start and his fourth title of 2015 on Sunday at the John Deere Classic to inch closer to golf’s summit.
If Spieth extends his winning streak next weekend at the British Open at St. Andrews, he will supplant Rory McIlroy as the world No. 1 while becoming the first player since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win the first three legs of the Grand Slam in a calendar year.
At the John Deere Classic, Spieth’s first competitive start since his victory at the United States Open and his only tuneup before heading to the Old Course, he closed with a three-under-par 68 to tie Tom Gillis at 20 under. Spieth, 21, defeated Gillis, a 46-year-old who has not won on the PGA Tour, with a par on the second hole of sudden death.
With McIlroy, 26, sidelined indefinitely with a badly sprained left ankle, the second-ranked Spieth’s coronation feels like a mere formality. Nobody on any tour has played better this season than Spieth, who has 11 top-10 finishes in 17 starts, not counting victories last December against quality fields at the Australian Open and the Hero World Challenge.
If nothing else, the golf-proud people of Scotland are not likely to repeat the mistake that was made during the Ryder Cup last September at Gleneagles, where Spieth made his first appearance on the practice range and hit balls in front of a placard that read “SPEITH.”
Everybody in the game now knows Spieth’s name. And in his quest to become the first player in the modern era to win all four majors in the same year, Spieth has built a following in golf that transcends its core audience, much as Tiger Woods did at the same age.
Woods, 39, won two of his 14 major titles on the storied Old Course: in 2000, at age 24, and again in 2005. He is entered this week, but as he struggles to regain his form, the generation inspired by his success is rushing in to fill the vacuum created by Woods’s two-year victory drought. On Sunday alone, Spieth prevailed in Silvis, Ill.; Rickie Fowler, 26, won his second title of the year, at the Scottish Open; and Cheng-Tsung Pan, 23, of Taiwan won on the Canadian PGA Tour in his fourth professional start.
And then there is McIlroy, 26, who has three worldwide victories in 2015 and was considered the peerless son a mere 11 months ago when he won the British Open, the Bridgestone Invitational and the P.G.A. Championship in consecutive starts. As he rehabilitates the injury he sustained playing soccer with friends, McIlroy could watch more than one of his peers pass him in the rankings.
“I didn’t think at the beginning of the year I would have a chance to get there this year,” Spieth said, referring to the No. 1 ranking.
After opening with a 71 at T.P.C. Deere Run, Spieth played the final 54 holes in 20 under to position himself for a run at No. 1 this week. Spieth, who was traveling to Scotland on Sunday night on a charter flight organized by John Deere Classic tournament officials, said he had played the Old Course only once. He won the United States Open on a links-style course, and his confidence is such that he believes if you have won on one links-style course, you can win on the most historic one of all.
“The only downside here versus playing anywhere else,” Spieth said before the tournament, “is just the adjustment to the time zone. But as long as I get over there and I have my schedule ahead of time, I’m going to have enough sleep by the time I tee it up Thursday.”
Enough sleep, Spieth hopes, to realize his dreams of reaching No. 1.
What's in Jordan's bag:
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x
Driver: Titleist 915D2 (Aldila Rogue Black 60TX), 9.5 degrees
3-wood: Titleist 915F, 15 degrees
Irons (3): Titleist 712U; (4-9): Titleist AP2 714; (PW): Titleist Vokey SM5
Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM5 (52, 56, 60 degrees)
Putter: Scotty Cameron by Titleist SC-009 prototype