By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Jordan Spieth's decision to compete in this week's PGA Tour event in the United States has cast a spotlight on the best way to prepare for the British Open -- whether or not to play links golf in advance.
Many of the biggest names in the game opted to tee it up at the Scottish Open in Gullane while tuning up for the third major of the year but Spieth preferred instead to get his competitive juices flowing at the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Illinois.
Making his choice of venue even more topical is the fact that Spieth has won the first two majors of the season and will be targeting the third leg of a unique calendar grand slam when he sets off in Thursday's opening round at St. Andrews.
There are no 'rights' and 'wrongs' when it comes to how a player should hone his game for a major, some preferring to be competitive the week before while others are more comfortable practicing ahead of time at the championship venue.
Yet links golf is a very different animal with unpredictable bounces off both fairway and green commonplace and the nuances of a course like St. Andrews are an acquired taste, especially when the wind blows from different directions.
While many have criticized Spieth's decision to play at the John Deere Classic, where he won his first PGA Tour title at the tender age of 19, the American world number two is entirely happy with his build-up to next week's British Open.
"If I thought that I wasn't going to play well next week because I played here, it would be a different story," Spieth, 21, told reporters.
"This is a good preparation for me to get good feels, to get in contention, and to find out what's on and what's off when I'm in contention.
"The only downside here versus playing anywhere else is 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."
SHOOK OFF RUST
Spieth looked out-of-sorts while opening with an even-par 71 at the John Deere Classic, his first PGA Tour event in three weeks, but shook off the rust with a sparkling 64 in the second round as he soared up the leaderboard.
He was even more impressive on Saturday, firing a round of 61 that included two eagles and six birdies as he seized first place in the tournament.
"I don't think it matters where it is, as long as I can get myself in contention, find out how I'm performing, what kind of minor tweaks I need to do, if any, the first couple days at the Open Championship to get ready for the major," said Spieth.
"I just want to get in contention. It doesn't matter where it is. When I get over there (to St. Andrews), whether I play well or don't play well has nothing to do with what I did the week before."
Former world number one Tiger Woods, who has clinched two British Opens at St. Andrews among his 14 major victories, backed Spieth's strategy.
"I think it's great for him to play, get the playing feels, keep the playing feels going," Woods said at the PGA Tour's Greenbrier Classic earlier this month. "Feels travel. He's played enough links-type golf courses.
"He did all right at Chambers (Bay)," smiled Woods, referring to the links-style venue for this year's U.S. Open where Spieth triumphed by one shot. "He's played the British Opens before.
"St. Andrews will be a little bit different, and there will be a lot to learn in a short time. But he's young, and he can spend the energy playing 18 holes every day and be fine."
Five-times major champion Phil Mickelson, who won the 2013 British Open at Muirfield, felt tournament preparation was all about individual choice.
"Each player has to find out how to prepare their best to play their best, and it's different for everybody," said the 45-year-old American.
"I can't comment on what he (Spieth) needs to do for him to play his best. Only he can do that."
Spieth is known by his peers for being wise beyond his years and so far he has barely made a misstep in his burgeoning career. If one is to second-guess his John Deere decision, perhaps it should be done only after the 2015 British Open.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)