Jordan Spieth admitted memories of his Masters meltdown flashed through his mind as he brilliantly avoided a repeat performance to claim one of the most remarkable victories in Open Championship history.
Three shots clear of Matt Kuchar heading into the final round, Spieth found himself a shot behind after his fifth bogey of the day on the 13th, which involved a 20-minute ruling and playing his third shot from Royal Birkdale’s practice ground.
But the 23-year-old American somehow regained his composure to play the next four holes in five under par to card a remarkable closing 69 and finish 12 under par, three shots ahead of the unfortunate Kuchar, who also shot 69 after a bogey on the last.
What an incredible way to comeback and win. Many congrats @JordanSpieth— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) July 23, 2017
The victory means Spieth joins Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win three majors before the age of 24 and he can surpass Tiger Woods as the youngest winner of a career grand slam by claiming next month’s US PGA at Quail Hollow.
Spieth won the Masters and US Open in 2015, but squandered a five-shot lead with nine holes to play at Augusta National the following year.
“As you can imagine, thoughts come in from my last scenario when I was leading a major on Sunday,” said Spieth.
“We never mentioned it, but all of a sudden it creeps into your head. I was so confident and all of a sudden the wheels have kind of come off everything and how do we get back on track to salvage this round and just give yourself a chance at the end. It took a bogey to do so.”
That was a reference to one of the most remarkable bogeys seen in a major championship, a turning point in a final round which started with Spieth enjoying a three-shot lead which was wiped out in four holes.
Spieth bogeyed three of them and, although he was soon two clear again thanks to a birdie on the fifth and Kuchar’s bogey on the next, there was a two-shot swing on the ninth as Kuchar birdied and Spieth three-putted for the third time.
The biggest drama was yet to come, however, with Spieth dropping out of the lead for the first time in two days in extraordinary circumstances on the 13th.
After a wild drive into the rough, Spieth took a penalty for an unplayable lie, entitling him to go back in a straight line as far as he liked to find a favourable place to drop.
That turned out to be the practice range between the 13th and 15th holes and specifically a truck belonging to one of the equipment manufacturers, from where he could then get a free drop away from a temporary immovable obstruction.
Around 20 minutes after finding his ball, Spieth eventually hit his third shot short of the green, chipped to seven feet and holed out for an unlikely bogey.
“If I was a very straight driver of the golf ball, I would have made a different score on that hole,” Spieth joked. “But having been in unplayable situations before, I just asked the question, is the driving range out of bounds?
“And I got the answer ‘no’ and thought that’s a much better location for me to hit the next shot because I can get it much closer to the green and it saves me almost a full stroke from going back to the tee.”
Spieth “apologised profusely” to Kuchar for the lengthy delay, but then rubbed salt into the wounds by almost holing his six-iron tee shot on the par-three 14th and tapping in for birdie.
“I knew we had momentum on our side and we were tied,” Spieth added. “And all of a sudden I felt and believed that I could win that golf tournament, when 30 minutes prior – and really the entire day after the fourth hole – I didn’t feel that way.”
A few minutes later Spieth holed from 45 feet for eagle on the par-five 15th and, although Kuchar made birdie there to fall just one behind, Spieth rolled in another putt from long range on the 16th and followed Kuchar in for birdie on the par-five 17th.
Kuchar, who admitted the loss was “hard to explain” and “crushing”, had the consolation of his best finish in 47 major appearances, with China’s Li Haotong three shots further back in third after equalling the lowest final round in major history with a closing 63.
Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy finished in a tie for fourth on five under with Scottish Open winner Rafa Cabrera Bello, with England’s Matthew Southgate a stroke further back alongside Brooks Koepka, Branden Grace, Alex Noren and Marc Leishman.
Rayhan Thomas could not hide his sense of disappointment despite his historic run to the semi-finals of the US Junior Amateurs.
In the premier junior tournament, organized by the United States Golf Association (USGA) and previously won by Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth, the 17-year-old Dubai-based Thomas became the first Indian to make it to the last four stage before losing to Noah Goodwin in the semis on Friday evening.
No Indian player has ever made it this far in the tournament in the past.
Goodwin, who finished runner-up in the tournament last year, is the No1 player in the US Junior Presidents Cup standings, while Thomas is No1 on the International team.
Friday could have been a dress rehearsal of what could be a future battle when the inaugural Junior Presidents Cup is held September 24-26 in Edison, New Jersey, but the world No27 Goodwin was too good for the world No85 Thomas on the day and won 5&4 to reach his second successive final.
Speaking to Sport360 after the match, Thomas said: “Yeah, there is a slight sense of disappointment, having come so close to playing the final.
“But at the end of the day, I am just happy to be here and I thought that was a good result. I really loved the event and learned a lot. The course was impeccable.
“The people of Kansas were great and it was good to have my mum here with me this week. The USGA really treated us well and gave us an almost US Open-like feel.
“I’d love to be back next year and do better…would love to be holding that trophy one day.”
On the semi-final match, Thomas refused to offer any excuses, and simply accepted he lost to a better player on the day.
“I thought Noah played really well. I think he was something like four- or five-under par for the 14 holes we played,” said Thomas, who became the first amateur to win on the MENA Golf Tour last year at the Dubai Creek Classic.
“I did not play well, and he played well – that was the only reason why I lost.”
Last year, Thomas had told Sport360 that his big aim by the end of the year would be to get physically fit to withstand the rigours of playing and walking 36 holes, that seem to the norm in amateur tournaments.
At Flint Hills National Golf Club this week, he played as many as nine rounds in seven days, including two practice rounds, and was pleased with the way he felt at the end of it.
“It was a long week and it was tough. Match play golf is very intense, so it was physically and mentally draining,” Thomas added.
“But I thought I did pretty well. To reach the semi-finals of such an event you have to be mentally and physically fit, and I felt I handled it much better than I would have say a year ago.”
Thomas now takes a week off before playing the Western Amateur in Chicago, one of the biggest amateur tournaments in the US which will feature each of the top-10 ranked players in the field this year.
Jordan Spieth completed a second round of one-under-par 69 on Friday to sit in the lead at six-under at the halfway stage in the British Open at Royal Birkdale.
Having been joint leader overnight at five-under, the American had an eventful day in miserable wet and windy conditions, shooting an eagle, three birdies and four bogeys.
Spieth is two strokes ahead of compatriot Matt Kuchar who followed his opening 65 with a 71 earlier in the day.
England’s Ian Poulter remains firmly in contention after signing for a 70 to lie on three under par, with US Open champion Brooks Koepka also three-under after dropping back from a share of the overnight lead with his 72.
Richie Ramsay of Scotland is two under par, while 2014 Open champion Rory McIlroy is in a small group on one-under.
Provided by AFP Sport