Jordan Spieth has another chance to be Jordan Spieth again

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PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland -- Jordan Spieth was finishing up a call and heading for the cart that would whisk him away from the course when a young worker stepped in and asked him to pose for a picture. Spieth put his arm around the boy's waist and gently moved him out of harm's way -- another cart was approaching quickly from the rear -- and then handed the phone to his agent, Jay Danzi, who took the side-by-side photo of the player and this really lucky fan.

Moments later that fan's luck ran out when he was chastised by a tournament superior for ignoring prior instructions and bothering a competitor at The Open.

The world-famous golfer was more willing than the kid's boss to cut the kid a break. Of course, very few people who have come in contact with Jordan Alexander Spieth would be terribly surprised by that.

Though Spieth might have lost some of his innocence over time with his tee-to-green struggles and rants -- some directed at himself, some at his caddie -- he still stands among the most agreeable and thoughtful players on tour. He is not yet 26 and already gets it. You can be a nice guy while still raging against Leo Durocher's claim that nice guys are destined to finish last.

As a competitor, Spieth's determination and grit have honored that of the legend he was named after -- Michael Jordan. He had no problem ripping the heart out of friend Matt Kuchar's chest during that 13th-hole passion play at Royal Birkdale two years ago; if necessary, Jordan, the old North Carolina Tar Heel, would have run Dean Smith's four-corner offense on Kuchar, too. Spieth did what he had to do to take the Claret Jug from Kuchar and make it his own.

That's why he should be considered a lethal threat over the next 36 holes at The Open despite his two-year victory drought, his almost comical weekend failures and his admission Friday that he still isn't hitting the ball worth a spit. Spieth's fire, and Spieth's faith, are his best friends as he moved into second-round contention following his 4-under 67.

His fire was obvious in becoming the youngest man to ever win the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year, and in claiming his third major title four days before his 24th birthday; Tiger Woods was six months older when he won his third. His faith was evident Friday when asked if his Birkdale muscle memory would help him Saturday and Sunday, even though he isn't hitting the ball anywhere close to where he hit it in 2017.

"Yeah, I think it's something very important to draw back on," Spieth answered. "I think 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 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."

It's the right mentality to have when the top of the leaderboard at Royal Portrush is populated by men the likes of Shane Lowry, J.B. Holmes, Tommy Fleetwood and Lee Westwood.

Men who have never won a major.

No question Spieth has serious hurdles to overcome if he's going to pull this off. The Texan who always put on a master class in putting on his way to the No. 1 world ranking for parts of 2015 and 2016 is now ranked 38th. Though Spieth is ranked 16th on tour in first-round scoring and second in second-round scoring, he has been stumbling across the weekend like a drunken sailor on shore leave. He is ranked 166th in third-round scoring (71.31) and 196th in fourth-round scoring (73.08). Spieth also walked into Royal Portrush ranked 189th in driving accuracy and 183rd in greens in regulation. Two rounds deep into this Open, he has hit only 39 percent of his fairways.

"At some point I hope to be playing off the short grass this week," Spieth said.

Asked what kind of progress he has made with his long game since missing the cut at the Travelers Championship last month, Spieth said, "Not much. I put in a lot of hours, but I think it's going to take maybe a couple of weeks to trust. I think I hit maybe two or three fairways [on Thursday]. I posted a score that was pretty incredible from where I played my second shots from."

Spieth somehow went birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie on a four-hole stretch on the front side Friday; he made a 25-footer from off the green for the eagle at the par-5 7th, and then a 20-footer for birdie on the next hole to punctuate the flurry.

"It was really the putter," Spieth said, "and just how I was attacking the holes."

It was also his firm belief in himself as a certified winner. Spieth has already built a Hall of Fame career before turning 26, shaped by 11 tour victories and a spirited run at the Grand Slam in 2015 that ended at St. Andrews, where he finished one shot out of a playoff.

"My game is in a different place than it was then," Spieth said. "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."

He is a creative player who grew up shaping his ball in the Texas wind, threatening again in the major that requires more creativity and wind management than the other three. "I love links golf," Spieth said.

And links golf loves him back.

Does that mean Spieth will end his drought Sunday and reclaim his position among the two or three signature players of the post-Tiger generation?

No, not necessarily. But unlike the contenders ahead of him on the board, Spieth has proved he knows how to win this championship. If he doesn't have the game, especially off the tee, Spieth does have the faith and the fire.

That makes him a very dangerous man with two very dangerous clubs in his bag.