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Published June 13, 2016
Jordan Spieth feels confident about his game, typical talk from most top players going into a major.
Unlike so many others at this U.S. Open, however, Spieth speaks from experience.
Not since Tiger Woods a decade ago has anyone had this kind of run in golf's biggest events. From the time he missed the cut at Valhalla in the 2014 PGA Championship, Spieth has not finished worse than fourth in his last five majors. He won the Masters and U.S. Open, missed a playoff at the British Open by one shot, was runner-up at the PGA Championship, and he tied for second at this year's Masters.
He made it sound Monday as though form were secondary to sheer belief.
"Is my game always (good) ... no," he said, answering his own question before he finished it. "The Masters this year, tee to green, I felt much worse than I did at events where I finished 25th at a tour event. But because I just felt that we were ready and that we could do it and I could draw on past experience — especially at that event — we got into contention. I willed the putts in. I couldn't really describe it to you other than it just being kind of a mental state of being confident at the majors."
Such streaks are rare.
In the last 60 years, only Jack Nicklaus (three times), Woods (twice) and Arnold Palmer have gone at least five straight majors in the top five. Nicklaus went seven straight majors from the 1971 PGA Championship through the 1972 British Open, while Woods' longest stretch of top 5s was six majors from the 1999 PGA Championship through the 2001 Masters. He won five of those six majors.
Whether the 22-year-old Texan can extend his streak depends largely on Oakmont.
The course has lived up to its reputation as the toughest championship test in golf over the last couple of days of dry weather. Spieth was among those who predicted no one will finish the week under par, as was the case in 2007 at Oakmont when Angel Cabrera won at 5-over 285.
Rain could change that. But rain won't make the rough shrink.
The density of the grass is as fearsome as the speed of the greens. Graeme McDowell had a bet with his caddie on Sunday in which the former U.S. Open champion would get $30 for every birdie, and he would lose $10 for every bogey. He played the back nine and lost $50.
The wind was so strong Sunday that Spieth said he would have shot somewhere around 75 or 76 at best, and he would have been happy with it.
"But today, with less wind, I thought that it was more playable," he said. "Still extremely challenging, where par is a great score, but I thought if you hit the ball where you were looking you could have birdie opportunities on quite a few holes. At the same time ... I'd sign for even par. I don't think anyone is going to be in the red come 72 holes. So it will be a challenge. But I'm looking forward to it."
Spieth is coming off a stretch of playing four straight weeks, with one very important tournament.
He missed the cut at The Players Championship, his first tournament back since losing a five-shot lead on the back nine at the Masters. He lost a good chance to win in his hometown at the AT&T Byron Nelson when he shot 74 in the final round. The important week was Colonial, where Spieth birdied his last three holes to win. He started well at the Memorial until fading badly on the weekend, but that win in Texas was big for his morale.
And it eased some of the sting from Augusta.
"That was a huge week for us, especially to win before any of the next majors," he said. "If we can get ourselves in contention here, I can draw back on Colonial, what happened at the end there. I think it would have been that much harder."
The really hard part is winning at Oakmont — not just because it's Oakmont, but the history against him. Curtis Strange is the only player in the last 65 years to win the U.S. Open in back-to-back years. Strange won in 1988 and 1989.
No one has come particularly close, either. Retief Goosen was defending champion in 2005 and took a three-shot lead into the final round at Pinehurst No. 2 only to close with an 81 to finish eight shots behind.
Different about this major title defense is that Spieth doesn't go to a special locker room for champions. He doesn't have to host a dinner for past champions.
"It just honestly feels like a normal week that I got here earlier for and I'm preparing harder for," he said. "I feel very confident about my game right now. I wish the tournament started tomorrow."