Eventually, it was just a round of one-under par 69 – far higher than the Sunday 63 shot by Henrik Stenson in his epic battle with Phil Mickelson to win in 2016 – but Jordan Spieth’s effort to win the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale will surely be remembered with as much awe.
While Stenson at Troon was sustained brilliance, Spieth’s will forever be known for incredible mental resilience and fortitude, and how hope can be resuscitated even in the direst of situations.
The 23-year-old American was not only fighting a faltering swing, he was also up against the demons that have haunted him since the 12th hole meltdown at the Masters a year ago. And for someone who is known to be an emotional and empathetic person – which was clearly evident in his acceptance speech as he spoke about the vanquished Matt Kuchar – it must have been tough to find himself leaving a trail of blood and injured fans.
In the first 13 holes on Sunday, Spieth’s waywardness caused him to shout fore on almost every other shot, and there were at least four holes when he smashed his ball into the spectators en route to losing his three-shot lead. Even that horrible cut drive on the 13th hole is said to have hit a fan before flying off into the unplayable lie on the mound.
At that point, it looked like the 13th of Royal Birkdale would become the 12th of Augusta National for him. Clearly, Spieth needed to do a couple of things urgently if he was to keep his hopes of winning a third major title alive – make a smart decision to extricate himself out of the mess on that particular hole, and then somehow find his game back and catch up with Kuchar over the remaining five holes.
There were couple of options available for him on that mound. Play the ball as it lies without incurring a penalty, or declare it unplayable. Once he took the right decision of not trying to hack it out of the tangly grass, he was faced with another decision – he could have gone back to the tee and played his third shot; he could have taken a two-club relief and dropped it back into the thick stuff, or he could have gone as far back, keeping the green and the spot where his tee shot landed in line.
It took him 20 minutes to play his third shot from the adjoining driving range – a move that looked ridiculous at the time, but somehow turned sublime by Spieth’s self-belief and ability.
Miraculously, he conjured up a bogey, thus falling behind Kuchar by just one shot. In hindsight, it was the bogey that won him the tournament.
Jolted out of mediocrity, it was a completely different Spieth from there on – one who just could not miss a shot. What started with a spectacular tee shot on the par-3 14th, which he almost holed out from 201 yards, then raced ahead of Kuchar with a 48-feet long eagle putt on the 15th, and never took his foot off the gas as he made two further birdies over the next two holes. Five-under par for his last four holes, his golf was so brilliant that it seemed a travesty of justice his long putt on the last did not drop for a final grandstand birdie.
What an incredible way to comeback and win. Many congrats @JordanSpieth— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) July 23, 2017
The win should do a few things for Spieth. First and foremost, it should end all talks about the purported frailty of his mind. Events at Birkdale suggest 2016 Masters was merely an aberration in what is definitely going to be one of the greatest careers in the sport.
Secondly, even though the victory elevates him to No2 in the world rankings behind Dustin Johnson, it should leave no doubts as to who is the leading player in the Big Three, or Big Four, or whatever the elite group is called these days. Since the beginning of 2014, Spieth has three major wins (the most in the world), and four other top-5s (also more than any other player in the world).
It just adds to all the fun and excitement that we will have at Quail Hollow, when the PGA Championship is held there in three week’s time. Spieth will be aiming to complete his career grand slam, and given the remarkable form he has been displaying, smart money would be on him to become only the sixth player in post-Masters era to achieve that.