Jordan Spieth admits the enormity of being crowned Open champion 12 months ago hit him like a punch “in the gut”.
The American won his third major, and his first Claret Jug, courtesy of an eventful final round in which he lost and then regained the lead with a run of birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie-par over his closing five holes to edge out Ryder Cup team-mate Matt Kuchar.
Spieth said the 72nd-green announcement of him becoming Champion Golfer of the Year was like being hit in the stomach – in a good way.
“When those words were spoken on the green at Birkdale, it just kind of hit me,” he said ahead of his arrival at Carnoustie for the 147th Open Championship.
“It was almost like someone had kind of punched me in the gut in the best way possible.
“Just you need to realise how special this is and embrace what it means.
“I look forward to teeing it up at Carnoustie, having those chills go through me as I step to the first tee and remember the year before, and obviously get focused and try to do it again.”
His fears were confirmed as he was forced to take a penalty for an unplayable lie, which was when things got interesting.
He spent the next 20 minutes looking for a suitable dropping area which resulted in him heading to the driving range, smashing a blind shot over the equipment trucks and into a greenside bunker from where he made a bogey.
It made for enthralling viewing, something which Spieth had to relive himself 24 hours later.
“I got home to Dallas the next day, and I couldn’t help but turn on the final round and fast-forward until the tee-shot on 13,” he added.
“I was like ‘I don’t even know exactly what happened on that tee-shot’ and then from there, after five minutes looking for the ball, I got pretty annoyed.
“For me it went by pretty quickly because it was ‘Okay, decision here, decision here, now I need to drop here, now I need…but with the coverage, with the commercials, they come back and it seems like we haven’t even moved.
“That was kind of tough to watch. I had no idea where that third shot actually landed until I watched the coverage.
“It was kind of funny, for me, as from the tee-shot to the third shot everything went faster than what it seemed when I was watching it.
“But then after the 13th hole, everything went slower to me than on TV.”
Such a recovery may not be possible this time around as Carnoustie has a sting in the tail, as 71-hole leader Jean van de Velde famously discovered when he took off his shoes and socks as he contemplated hitting his third shot out of the Barry Burn on his way to eventually losing a play-off to Paul Lawrie.
“I don’t have any memory of the ’99 Open, unfortunately.
“But 2007, I definitely do. I remember watching Sergio (Garcia) and Padraig (Harrington) going at it and I remember that 18th hole.
“That was kind of the height of me starting to fall in love with the game and travel and play.”
Phil Mickelson conceded he does a lot of “dumb stuff” after speaking at length for the first time about his controversial penalty during the US Open.
The five-time major winner was four over par for his third round at Shinnecock Hills when he badly over-hit a putt on the 13th and, seeing that it would roll off the green, prevented that from occurring by running after his ball and hitting it while it was still moving.
A number of fellow professionals felt Mickelson should have been disqualified for a serious breach of etiquette, but the left-hander was given a two-shot penalty for breaking rule 14-5 and eventually finished joint 48th.
Mickelson told critics of his actions to “toughen up” after claiming he was simply using the rules to his advantage, but a few days later sent a message to a handful of American journalists offering his apologies.
The 48-year-old was also penalised for tapping down some long grass in front of a tee during last week’s Greenbrier Classic and, speaking after an opening round of 70 in the ASI Scottish Open, said: “I’ve had a rough month. I haven’t been my best. So I’m working at trying to fix that.
“I made a big mistake (at the US Open) and I wish I could take it back, but I can’t. There’s not much I can do about it now other than just try to act a little better.
“The thing about this is throughout my career, 25 years, there have been a lot of times where I have had to be accountable for decisions I did not make. And the reason why this has actually been easier is it was my own fault.
“The backlash is my own fault. So it’s much easier to deal with than some of the times where I have not been involved in the decisions and had to deal with that.
“You have to be accountable for yourself. I do a lot of dumb stuff, right.
I have these moments where I’m like in a cloud, if you will, I’m not really sure what I’m doing or I’m just kind of going through the motions and not really aware at the moment, and I’ve done that a bunch in my career.”
Asked if his actions at the US Open were intended as a protest against the way the USGA had set up the course, Mickelson added: “There was just a bunch of stuff. But I had to let that go. It took me a few days to kind of let it go.
“Not only was I not great on the course, I was not great after the round, either. So it was just not a great day, and it was my birthday. So I tend to do dumb stuff on my birthday, too.
“At the time I was pretty angry. The way I show anger is not the traditionally accepted way of, you know, throwing clubs and berating the fans and marshals. I tend to be a little more passive aggressive in my actions, and that was kind of what I was doing.”
Mickelson also revealed that his potential 10 million-dollar (£7.5million) shootout with Tiger Woods is “close to having some stuff finalised”, but that he and Woods would not be putting up the money themselves.
“I would hope for a sponsor,” he said with a smile.
Ian Poulter believes his best is yet to come after playing his way into the Masters.
The Englishman needed a win at the Houston Open to advance into the year’s first major and duly delivered, making a 20-foot putt for birdie to get into a play-off and then capitalising on a Beau Hossler mistake to win a play-off.
It is all a far cry from last season when the 42-year old thought he had lost his card in America before being handed a reprieve after a recalculation.
The win was his first in six years but Poulter is now fully focused on getting back to his best and earning a place at the Ryder Cup.
He told a press conference streamed by the PGA Tour: “It’s tough when you’re down, when you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, when everything seems to be going wrong, it’s hard, it gets you down.
“But it’s not the first time I’ve gone through some roller coasters. That’s as low as I’ve ever been, that’s as far down the world rankings as I’ve been, questioning whether you’ve got a Tour card or not – it isn’t very good.
“It’s not very good for your mental strength. It’s not very good for your psyche, but to reassess, to reform the team, Paul Dunkley, my agent, has done an incredible job… simplifying my life to get me back on track, it’s been amazing. The journey continues.
“I’ve had 19 good years on tour and I guess I’ve got another couple coming. There’s life in the old dog yet.”
With just one place up for grabs, only victory at the Golf Club of Houston would have been enough for the Englishman to earn his right to play in the season’s first major after narrowly missing out through his world rankings position and a mix-up during the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play last week.
Poulter found himself 51st in this week’s world rankings, with the top 50 players receiving an invite to Augusta National, which came two days after being informed that he had done enough to qualify ahead of his quarter-final in Mexico, only to be told 10 minutes before his defeat to Kevin Kisner that he required another victory.
His chances of qualification looked slim when he carded a poor first round – where he hit a one-over par 73 to sit 123rd – but recovered to record a flawless eight-under on Friday and seven birdies on Saturday to share the lead with Hossler ahead of the final round.
Poulter, who held a four-shot lead midway through the final round, trailed by one with three holes remaining after Hossler rattled in four successive birdies from the 12th, but the Englishman holed out a 20-foot birdie putt at the last to extend the tournament.
Hossler’s quest for his first PGA title ended in disaster after finding bunkers with his first two shots when replaying the 18th.
His third shot from a greenside bunker found water handing the initiative to Poulter, who kept his nerve to secure victory with a steady par – and sealing his first title since the 2012 WGC-HSBC Champions.