Spieth and Koepka make massive early statements

Southgate finished in a share of second in Northern Ireland

Southgate finished in a share of second in Northern Ireland

Thirty-nine players were under par Thursday, but none lower than Jordan Spieth, Matt Kuchar and Brooks Koepka, who each posted five-under 65s to tie for the lead.

Phachara Khongwatmai plays a shot out of the tall grass - a place he found himself too often on Day 1 of The Open.

And it was the only time all day that he stressed for par. He still shot 65, his best score ever in a major. So numerous expectations of Spieth now are measured against that season. In that bunker at No. 16, he "could have played hockey there, I could have gone back and forth", but he put "a ton of velocity with an open face to it" and enabled a par that "was harder than hitting a 7-iron to 15 feet and making it". "There's a lot more guys who haven't won majors than guys who have that are playing, so the chances are it is going to be someone who hasn't won one", he said, pointing out Henrik Stenson and Dustin Johnson were among the seven and they were always likely candidates. Those are rare even for the greatest players, and it might be Spieth's bad luck that it happened to him so early in his career. That he can't - and won't - make those birdie bombs forever, and then he'll struggle.

"If I start playing four or five weeks in a row, everything just seems to get nonchalant, " Koepka, 27, said. Spieth is coming off his second victory of the year last month at the Travelers Championship. "If I putted the same as '15, I'd be having a better year right now".

However, despite his problems in recent years, Players insists that, at his best, Woods was more than a match for any of the current stars. He hit another tee shot, this one into a bunker on the left. And so, with almost everyone in the 156-man field playing from the same positions, Spieth enjoys a massive advantage.

And with far more inclement weather, including stronger winds, expected on Friday, he was prepared to take it all in stride.

"I thought today's round was extremely important, as they all are, but given the forecast coming in, I thought you really needed to be in the red (under par) today", the 23-year-old said.

McCormick deserves an assist for Spieth's 65. When he finally got back to Florida, he played golf only one time, with manager Blake Smith at Hambric Sports, and lost to him (though he gave him 13 shots).

It's part of his drive to emulate some of the qualities of Federer, who he watched from the Royal Box win his record eighth title at Wimbledon last week.

With that knowledge, his distance control was impeccable for much of the day. "If I can go out and play a good, quality round of golf in the morning and try to get in the clubhouse somewhere around even par, under par, I'll still be around for the weekend". "He was putting beautifully. He made a lot of good putts out there". You get excited to play golf.

But Spieth bucked the trend as he parred the last. It can't be much worse than what we had in the second round a year ago or it would be unplayable. "And I've kind of seen a bit of everything". The big key was needing only 21 putts.

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