From depths of despair Jordan Spieth's is a tale of victory
He comes back from poor start with incredible final five holes to win Open title
Jordan Spieth celebrates after holing out on the 18th green to secure the British Open title. Photograph: Andrew Boyers/Reuters
The storyline was like a warped novel, playing with our minds. Not like golf at all, not sedate; certainly not straightforward.
And when Jordan Spieth stood atop a sand hill so far right of the 13th fairway here at Royal Birkdale that he looked like a lost soul looking for inspiration and direction, it seemed for all the world that this 146th British Open had discovered at its heart a fragile character who would be a fall guy.
It didn’t work out that way, for this wasn’t a story of defeat. It was a tale of victory. From the depths of despair, his mind fleetingly frazzled only to find the reason to ask a simple question - “Is the practice ground out of bounds?” - and to turn the reply that it was not to his advantage, Spieth produced as stunning a finish as this old championship has ever witnessed to capture the Claret Jug.
Spieth’s unfolding world was righted again and he took destiny back into his own control
In taking relief from an unplayable lie in deep rough on the 13th, retracing his steps ever further back so that he took a penalty drop among the equipment trucks and then got line-of-sight relief on to the practice ground from where he fashioned a 3-iron recovery, Spieth’s unfolding world was righted again and he took destiny back into his own control.
The bogey that Spieth salvaged from the threatened carnage of that 13th hole was every bit as important as the remarkable golf which followed, a run of birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie-par over the remaining five holes as the 23-year-old American shot a closing 69 for a total of 268, 12-under-par, which gave him a three stroke cushion over the teary Matt Kuchar.
In lifting the Open title - the third Major of his career to go with the US Masters and the US Open trophies, and just a week before his 24th birthday - Spieth completed the third leg of the career Grand Slam and will next month have the opportunity to complete all four when he tees up in the US PGA at Quail Hollow.
For now, three it is: and only Gene Sarazen and Jack Nicklaus, in the modern professional era, had ever previously done so before their 24th birthdays. That’s the company he has joined.
If we thought this final round would be a mere procession for Spieth, who carried a three shot 54-hole lead into the final day, early events proved how wrong that belief was. Spieth looked nervous, and played that way. Three bogeys inside the opening four holes wiped the slate clean and he was back tied with Kuchar, for a duel where the elder, 39-year-old American seeking his breakthrough Major had all the momentum.
China’s Haotong Li had set the clubhouse target with a closing 63 for six-under-par 274, but, standing on the 13th tee, Spieth and Kuchar were locked together on eight-under. It was then that Spieth’s drive was pushed so far right that disaster lurked.
As the groups ahead worked towards a finish, Spieth’s working of the rules - with referee JR Jones - resulted in deliberations which would stretch and stretch to almost 20 minutes before he played his recovery, accepting the distance advice of his caddie Michael Greller that it was a 3-iron and not a 3-wood play.
“In a lot of situations when we’re on a crazy angle, I’d pick myself (rather than Greller). And on that one he seems very confident. He was very adamant, and it gave me the confidence to hit it,” said Spieth of being assured it was 230 yards and not 270 yards to the flag.
Kuchar - with only a six-iron approach of his own - opted to play ahead of him, rather than waiting for his turn. “We knew Jordan was in a great deal of trouble, knew that taking a drop that far back on the range, trying to get the correct line that you take an unplayable drop, and then from there figuring out distance, where to aim his shot, we were going to be there for a while,” said Kuchar.
What transpired was that Spieth’s approach finished right and short of the bunker guarding the green, and he chipped and putted, holing from eight feet, for a wondrous bogey. Kuchar parred, to take the lead. Little did he know what lay ahead, as Spieth produced knock-out blow after knock-out blow over the closing stretch of holes.
To be in that company, no doubt is absolutely incredible
“The (bogey) putt on 13 was just massive,” said Spieth, who revealed his caddie held him back as he walked off the green. Although he’d fallen one stroke behind, it could have been much, much worse. “Hey, that’s a momentum shift right there,” Greller said to his player. Spieth’s reaction was to hit “a laser” - his words - 6-iron tee-shot from 199 yards to birdie the Par 3 14th. “All of a sudden I felt and believed I could win,” he said.
Then, as if all the pressure had been lifted, Spieth was inspired. He eagled the 15th. And birdied the 16th and 17th before closing with a par to ensure he would succeed Henrik Stenson as champion.
“He’s a fighter, he’s shown that the whole way through his short career. He can dig himself out of these holes. He’s an absolute stud,” remarked Rory McIlroy - who finished tied-fourth - of Spieth.
As for Spieth, joining Nicklaus in winning three different majors before his 24th birthday, and a chance next month in the PGA to beat Tiger Woods’s record as the youngest ever career Grand Slam winner, there was a moment of humility amongst the splendour of his achievement. “I don’t compare myself, I don’t think they are appropriate or necessary.
“To be in that company, no doubt is absolutely incredible. And I appreciate it, but I am very careful as to what that means going forward because what those guys have done transcended the sport and in no way, shape or form do I think I’m anywhere near that.”
Others might say differently; certainly in the future.