Veteran qualities see Spieth seize control at blustery Birkdale

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It is by no means certain that Jordan Spieth will win the 146th Open Championship, but golf's 'golden child' could hardly have looked more ready to lift the Claret Jug as he once again turned in a performance that belied his tender years at Royal Birkdale on Friday.

A week shy of his 24th birthday, a player so often hailed for his maturity has carried the air of a grizzled veteran in Southport, totally prepared for whatever challenges he might face.

After shooting a superb 65 in round one to share the lead with Brooks Koepka and Matt Kuchar, the two-time major winner was fully aware that a sterner test was on the way, with gusting winds and heavy rain set to sweep in.

Spieth cut an exasperated figure at Royal Troon 12 months ago upon finding himself on the wrong side of the draw. And in a pre-tournament news conference at Birkdale on Tuesday, tee times were again at the forefront of his mind as he suggested around 50 per cent of the field could be ruled out of contention this week.

However, on a wet - and at times wild - afternoon on England's north-west coast, the young Texan was able to dig deep and separate himself from the field.

It was a case of damage limitation at times on the outward nine, with Spieth's long game not at its sharpest. Two bogeys followed a birdie at the first, but some superb scrambling rescued pars at the second, sixth and eighth.

If that was impressive, what followed had the feel of a potentially decisive period.

Prior to a brief suspension in play forced by the day's most torrential downpour, Spieth was tied for the lead but looked certain to drop at least one shot at the par-four 10th, where he was forced to pitch out sideways from a fairway bunker and then flew the green with his third shot.

With a bogey to his name on the previous hole, he seemed to be losing his way, only to respond with a moment of sheer genius - a perfectly judged chip salvaging the most unlikely of pars.

Spieth was far from finished there. Facing a softened course when play resumed and with the winds having temporarily eased, he duly put the hammer down.

His renowned putting ability came to the fore at the 11th, a 30-foot birdie taking him clear again at the top of the leaderboard. And when a tee shot finished stone dead on the next, he was able to move two in front.

Although Spieth dropped strokes on 14 and 16, he provided another moment to savour in between those mishaps with an eagle at the 15th and led by two from Kuchar at the close of play.

Since he claimed a second successive major title at the 2015 U.S. Open, Spieth has shown signs of fallibility on the grandest stage. His Masters meltdown at Augusta last April will be talked about for decades.

However, there can be no doubting the class of a player who has already achieved so much at such a young age.

Having looked like the wisest of old hands on Friday, he is now the clear favourite for Open glory.