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Spieth defends at Travelers with eye to keeping Claret Jug

© GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP | Fifth-ranked defending champion Jordan Spieth sees this week's US PGA Travelers Championship as a crucial step ahead of defending the British Open championship next month at Carnoustie

NEW YORK (AFP) - 

Fifth-ranked defending champion Jordan Spieth sees this week's US PGA Travelers Championship as a crucial step ahead of defending the British Open championship next month at Carnoustie.

The 24-year-old American, who won the 2015 Masters and US Open titles, captured his third major crown last year at Royal Birkdale just a month after a spectacular chip-in from a bunker to defeat Daniel Berger in a playoff for the Travelers title.

Despite missing the cut in last week's US Open at Shinnecock, Spieth remains confident after making the short trip to TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut, for Thursday's opening round.

"I feel like there are good scores coming," Spieth said. "In order for (my game) to be major championship ready for the Open Championship, I think being in contention this week would be a big key.

"It's tough to go win a major championship if you're not at least coming off top-10 finishes in tournaments where you had a chance to win. The three that I've won, I came off two seconds going into The Masters. I came off, I think, a third at Muirfield before the US Open, and maybe a second at Colonial to a second and a third, and the Open last year off of a win here.

"Those go a long way for me in my confidence to work up a leaderboard in a major."

Speith will be tested by a field that includes fourth-ranked Brooks Koepka, coming off his second consecutive US Open victory, as well as second-ranked Justin Thomas, who won last year's PGA Championship, and Australia's ninth-ranked Jason Day.

Watching contenders struggle in the weekend wind at the US Open only made last week's missed cut more agonizing for Spieth, who had not missed a weekend at a major since the 2014 PGA.

"When I saw the scores, I was even more frustrated at my finish, because going out early Saturday and you shoot something under par, say 3-, 4-under, and I would have been in the last couple groups and had a chance to win the US Open," Spieth said.

"That was a bummer for sure. But I've come here, I've kind of regrouped over the weekend, and this is my sixth out of seven weeks, and I had an extra couple days to rest and be ready for this one."

- 'Pure emotion' -

Returning to River Highlands brought back memories of last year's winning bunker shot at the 18th and the chest-bump celebration with caddie Michael Greller.

"I've seen the shot a lot of times, especially the couple weeks after the golf tournament. I probably watched it every single day it was so cool," Spieth said.

"Walking up to 18 it was really cool. The last time I walked up that hole was obviously in the playoff. Just this is a golf course that I have pretty much all good memories on."

Spieth didn't try to replicate his magnificent bunker blast during a practice round.

"That was pretty special," Spieth said. "I don't think we could do that again no matter how many times we tried."

Spieth said the joyful chest-bump celebration with his caddie has gotten more attention than the shot.

"Just that celebration in general, I blacked out," Spieth said. "It drops and you just react. It was just pure emotion. It was great.

"You're worried about in the back of your head is Michael going to go chest bump or side bump? So I think I went side while he went chest, which is better than the other way around."

© 2018 AFP