Jordan Spieth beat Matt Kuchar by three shots to win the Open at Royal Birkdale after his recovery from a mishit drive at the 13th hole re-energised his final round
Whatever else Jordan Spieths career yields and expect it to be plenty there will never be anything as remarkable as this. The 23-year-old will go to the USPGA Championship in under a monthstime needing only that title to complete the Grand Slam. If that seems partly logical given Spieths talent and ferocious mental strength, hard facts do a huge disservice to a truly astonishing afternoon on Merseyside.
At the end of it all, he became the youngest recipient of the Claret Jug since 1979. It is fitting that the man who prevailed then, Seve Ballesteros, had a propensity to play the central character in a drama. If a scriptwriter had delivered a script for this, the conclusion to the 146th Open Championship, the odds are it would have been rejected on the grounds of being fanciful.
Spieth is the Open champion who found solace amongst equipment trucks when the watching world wondered what on earth he was doing. He is the player who, from the point of a meltdown which conjured parallels with JeanvandeVelde at Carnoustie, pulled himself back from the brink. Jack Nicklaus, a man who knows enough about major victories to have sampled 18 of them, heralded Spieths great display of guts, determination and skill.
Majors might not come easy to anyone but Spieth triumphed here in the most bewildering manner possible. No wonder they call him the Golden Child. At times on Sunday he played so poorly that it looked impossible he could win. But win he did and win he does; now three times in major tournaments since the start of 2015.
Sympathy is due, and huge chunks of it, for Matt Kuchar. The 39-year-old has never won a major and is now entitled to question whether he ever will, having watched Spieth defy logic on a first-hand basis. It is perhaps no exaggeration to suggest previously neutral onlookers swayed towards Kuchar as Spieth took part in the 13th-hole scene that threatened to define the tournament. Instead, it roused Spieth to the level where he was inspired. Psychologists should write theses on this young man.
On the tee Spieth had his head in his hands on account of a horribly cut drive which landed in deep foliage. This was hardly an isolated incident; Spieth had long since conceded the three-shot lead he enjoyed at the start of day four. His play was erratic, his demeanour edgy, his hitherto nerveless putting a weakness. Was Spieth, the man tortured by such a horrible collapse at Augusta National last year, about to do it again?
It took 20 minutes for Spieth to play what was his third shot to 13. In seeking the best possible distance and lie to find the green, he walked back some 50 yards and on to the range. Equipment trucks and flags there provided an added complication to an already extraordinary sight. Spieth used a rule to his advantage rather than breach any; the great Seve, and Tiger Woods, had plenty of previous for precisely the same.
Spieth escaped with a bogey five, handing Kuchar a one-stroke lead, but the theatre had really only started. The new champion came close to an ace at the 14th, holed out for an eagle on the 15th from 48ft and converted from only just inside that distance on 16. Spieth had bounced from the ropes to inflict a knockout blow on Kuchar. Even at the penultimate hole Kuchars birdie was immediately offset by the same from Spieth. What had looked the professional breaking of Spieth was the making of him in the blink of an eye.
Spieth and Kuchar ultimately traded 69s, the formers 12-under aggregate testimony to generally favourable Open conditions. The winning margin was three. Kuchar, one of the most genial individuals in golf, appeared pleased for Spieth when lesser mortals would beofamind to attack him with a four-iron. If there is a golfing god, Kuchars time will come.
One of many exceptional aspects of Spieths driving-range foray was that Li Haotong was, at the same time, back in the same place preparing for a potential play-off. The Chinese player had recorded a wonderful 63 to move to six under par, a tally that had serious championship potential as Spieth toiled and Kuchar failed to take proper advantage. Lis third-place finish earns him an invite to next years Masters as his star continues to rise.
Rory McIlroy did not seem like he knew what to make of a share of fourth. The Northern Irishman started this event so poorly that recovery to the point of prominence was a great effort, even more so when recent struggles are brought into the equation. Nonetheless, McIlroy actually had a decent chance of winning here. He should, and will, take confidence towards Quail Hollow and the US PGA.
McIlroys fourth-round 67 meant he sat alongside Rafa Cabrera Bello at five under. The top 10 was completed by the minus four group of Matthew Southgate, Marc Leishman, Alex Noren, Branden Grace and Brooks Koepka.
Ian Poulter signed off with a 70, meaning a tie for 14th. The Englishman did not mince his words thereafter. Ive had a lousy weekend, he said. Nothing to be happy about or proud about. Im walking away from this tournament feeling extremely disappointed, from a great start. Alfie Plant will look back on Birkdale with considerably more endearing memories, the likeable amateur making a final-round 73 before taking collection of the silver medal.
Hes a fighter, hes shown that the whole way through his short career, McIlroy said of Spieth. Add that description to the list. This sport is so lucky to have him.