Southport, England – As if last year’s Open Championship at Royal Troon (where Phil battled Henrik in an epic duel) wasn’t an instant classic, we were once again treated to high drama and a championship worthy of the game’s best prize. This was another edition of a special player doing extraordinary things to win a major championship and re-write history. Leading since the opening round of the 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, Jordan Spieth’s path to win his third career major championship seemed as if it was being forged by destiny.
But a brutal beginning to Game #39 tested Spieth’s mettle, a bad bounce on the opening tee shot prompted caddie Michael Greller to set the tone early with a gut check to his boss telling him to “get over it”. Despite the sage advice, bogeys on 3 of the first 4 holes looked to be derailing destiny’s plan. That and Solid play by fellow American challenger Matt Kuchar brought the tilt to a dead heat by the turn (at 8 under par).
What became a classic “mano a mano” duel on the English links remained knotted until Spieth sprayed his tee shot 70 yards right of the fairway on the par 4 – thirteenth requiring a bizarre unplayable situation that took nearly 20 minutes to get settled. When the dust cleared, Spieth holed a 7 footer for a miracle bogey.
Kuchar made a routine par, and for the first time in the championship – had the lead. But somehow it wasn’t the 39 year old who had the mojo, it was Jordan Spieth that gained the momentum and a mental edge. You could practically sense what was coming next. Kuchar safely hit the green on the par 3 fourteenth, but faced a lengthy putt, Spieth seized the moment and nearly aced his 6 iron, leaving nothing more than a tap in. Kuchar made his par, while Spieth converted the birdie and once again shared a piece of the lead. On the par 5 fifteenth, Jordan made two of his best swings of the day reaching the green in two, then draining the 45 foot bomb for eagle (kuchar made birdie) – once again gaining his grasp on the Claret Jug. He never let Kuch back up for air, that 3 hole stretch of made putts was the haymaker.
In fact, the 23 year old Texan played that stretch of four holes (14-17) in 5 under par to ending Kuchar’s major championship dream. Spieth’s -12 (268 total) was good enough for a three shot victory (Kuchar bogeyed the last to finish at 9 under par).
Afterward, a tired “Champion Golfer of the Year” reflected on the crazy drama filled day at Royal Birkdale: “That was eventful, seventeen pars and a birdie would have been fine too. There’s a lot of roads to get there, and today I was put in a tough one early on and showed some resiliency,” Spieth said. “I owe a lot of credit to my guy on the bag for that because as you can imagine thoughts come in from the last scenario from when I was leading a major on Sunday.” In the middle of his his winners press conference he sighed and said “That round took as much out of me as any day that I’ve ever played golf.”
Jack Nicklaus is the only other player in history to win his third major championship before the age of 24 (Spieth turns 24 on Wednesday).
China’s Haotong Li shot 63 on Sunday to finish solo third. Rory McIlroy showed signs of improved form with rounds of 71-68-69-67 to finish fourth at 5 under par. Branden Grace shot 62 on Saturday breaking the all-time scoring record for a round in a major championship, he finished tied for sixth at 4 under par.
Jordan Spieth goes to Quail Hollow in three weeks attempting to win the career Grand Slam (a feat only accomplished by Nicklaus, Hogan, Sarazen, Player and Woods).