Jordan Spieth Searching for a Strong Finish After Hot Start at 2014 US Open

Lindsay GibbsFeatured ColumnistJune 12, 2014

PINEHURST, NC - JUNE 12:  Jordan Spieth of the United States hits his tee shot on the 13th hole during the first round of the 114th U.S. Open at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, Course No. 2 on June 12, 2014 in Pinehurst, North Carolina.  (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
David Cannon/Getty Images

Jordan Spieth was 11 years old the last time Pinehurst hosted the U.S. Open. Nine years later, he finds himself toward the top of the leaderboard at Pinehurst No. 2 after the first day of play.

Now, he faces his biggest challenge: staying there. 

Spieth teed off in his third U.S. Open at 8:13 a.m. ET on Thursday with Hideki Matsuyama and Rickie Fowler. He shot a very solid round, with three bogeys and four birdies, leaving him with a one-under-par 69 on the day.

"I had a lot of fun today," he told ESPN's Tom Rinaldi after he finished his round. "I was able to get in a flow early, scramble around, and one under I'd take four times."

Of course, this year, Thursdays haven't been a problem for Spieth. It's Sundays when he's run out of steam.

At the two biggest events so far this year, the Masters Tournament and The Players Championship, he has played in the final group on the deciding day. In Augusta, he finished tied for second. At The Players, he was tied for fourth.

The 20-year-old told Kyle Porter of before the tournament started that he felt he had learned from his disappointing Sunday showings at the Masters and The Players and was finally ready to put it all together:

'The goal isn't just to feel the feelings and try to get the comfort level, now it's to really try and put into place what Augusta as well as The Players have taught me, just certain things on the course.' Spieth said. 'Out here it's going to be even more difficult to stay patient, which has been the biggest thing that's led me to be successful in those two events.'

Yes, that's a fair assessment. Add 'self-aware' to the lengthy list of items in which Spieth has talent.

'This is the hardest tournament to be patient in, in the world,' Spieth added. 'So, yeah, to answer your question, I think that -- I believe that I can win this golf tournament. I feel comfortable on this golf course. I think it fits my game. And when I step on the first tee that's what I'm trying to do.'

Spieth's rise in the past two years has been nothing short of meteoric. He played the U.S. Open in 2012 when he was ranked No. 720 in the world. Just 18 years old, he finished tied for 21st and was the low amateur. Last year, he was a pro and had climbed up to No. 141 but missed the cut.

Still, 2013 was a very successful year for Spieth. He became the first teenager in 82 years to win a tournament when he won the John Deere Classic in July. He was named the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year and came into 2014 on a mission.

Now, the Texan is ranked No. 10 in the world and has been the most consistent big-stage player so far this season. Chris Murphy of profiled how the mature 20-year-old has prepared for this championship:

Spieth's preparations for Pinehurst have included calls to [the course designer, Ben] Crenshaw, to pick his brains as to the redesign, and strength and conditioning work in the gym.

As well as repeating his "stay patient" mantra, Spieth has also been grooving his swing to make sure it stands up to the fierce examination of the closing holes in a major championship.

This U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 isn't going to do anyone any favors. The course was restored to its 1901 form a couple of years ago: The rough has been taken away, and it's only fairways, greens, wiregrass, sand and weeds. It's also been lengthened significantly. Greens are going to be hard to find, and birdies will be rare. It's a good thing Spieth can usually keep his cool under pressure.

The conditions were softer than expected on Thursday, leaving the leaderboard packed with big names. Among others, Jason Dufner, Dustin Johnson and Keegan Bradley are one under par with Spieth, and Phil Mickelson is at even par.

But with all of the stars in golf right now, nobody's stock is rising quite as quickly as Spieth's. 

Even though he's still not old enough to legally drink, Spieth is ready to stop being the future of golf and take over as the present. He's off to a great start, but this time, he knows his job is nowhere near complete.