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Jordan Spieth surges into contention

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PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — Jordan Spieth is two good rounds at Royal Portrush away from stopping everyone from asking him, “What’s wrong?’’

Spieth, who hasn’t won since his 2017 British Open triumph at Royal Birkdale, positioned himself to hoist a second Claret Jug after shooting 67 in Friday’s second round to move to 5-under par, just three shots out of the lead held by J.B. Holmes and Shane Lowry.

“I’m in contention,’’ Spieth said. “I feel good. I feel like if I can continue to improve each day, hit the ball better (Saturday) than I did (Friday) and better on Sunday than Saturday, then I should have a chance with how I’d feel on and around the greens.’’

The 25-year-old Spieth, who has struggled with his game for the better part of the last year and a half as he’s made changes in his swing and lost his pristine putting touch, believes being an Open winner can serve as an extra club in his bag over the weekend.

“I think it’s something very important to draw back on,’’ he said. “I need to be looking at the positives of the history of this tournament and my history in major championships versus focusing on anything else.

“If I can kind of walk tall knowing that there’s very few people who have been in this situation contending in the weekend in majors as many times as I have, that’s certainly a confidence boost for myself. So that’s going to be the mentality.’’

As buoyed as Spieth’s confidence has been with this strong start, he also is realistic about needing to play better the next two days. Through two rounds, Spieth has hit just 10 of 28 fairways, which is living dangerously on this golf course with the high and heavy rough.

“Certainly, my score improved,’’ Spieth said, who shot 1-under-par 70 on Thursday. “I putted a bit better. I felt like I played the easy holes well and then I avoided the pot bunkers (Friday) more than I did (Thursday). But I certainly found the rough more than I did (Thursday). At some point, I hope to be playing off the short grass this week.’’

On Thursday, Spieth compared Royal Portrush to Birkdale in that it requires bump-and-run ground shots and a good amount of approach shots through the air.

“Going into Birkdale, I was hitting it tee to green the best on tour that season,’’ Spieth said. “And it played from the air, so it played where you really needed to strike your shots into the green and hold winds and really be on line with iron play. It just hasn’t been my strength this year.

“My game is in a different place than it was then, and I’m working to get it back to where it was then. But anytime in an Open Championship that I’m in contention, I feel good about the potential of being able to make a run at it Saturday and Sunday. It favors you if you’re really striking the ball beautifully.’’

Spieth knows his ball striking isn’t yet where he wants it.

“I put in a lot of hours, but I think it’s going to take maybe a couple of weeks to trust (the swing),’’ he said. “I think I hit maybe two or three fairways (Friday). I mean, I posted a score that was pretty incredible from where I played my second shots from.

“I’ve spent a decent amount of time in some pretty bad spots this season, so maybe that’s helping a little bit,’’ Spieth joked. “My shots out of trouble were really, really nice. And I got some good breaks off of where I hit it to. It’s not worth continuing to try and hit those cool shots. But I’ve got my money’s worth for two days.’’

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