Spi­eth spec­tac­u­lar

From a shot off the driv­ing range to a 5-un­der fin­ish

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - DOUG FER­GU­SON

Jor­dan Spi­eth of the United States is the Bri­tish Open cham­pion, just like ex­pected. Not like any­one could have imag­ined.

On the verge of an­other melt­down in a ma­jor, so wild off the tee that he played one shot from the driv­ing range at Royal Birk­dale golf course in north­west Eng­land, and lost the lead for the first time all week­end, Spi­eth bounced back with a col­lec­tion of clutch shots, de­liv­er­ing a rally that ranks among the best.

A near ace. A 50-foot ea­gle putt. A 30-foot birdie putt.

Spi­eth, from Texas and just 23, played the fi­nal five holes in 5 un­der and closed with a 1-un­der 69 for a three-shot vic­tory over Matt Kuchar.

It was the third leg of the ca­reer Grand Slam and a chance to be the youngest to win them all next month at the PGA Cham­pi­onship.

“This is a dream come true for me,” Spi­eth said, gaz­ing at his name on the sil­ver claret jug. “Ab­so­lutely a dream come true.”

For so much of Sun­day, it felt like a re­cur­ring night­mare.

Just 15 months ago, Spi­eth lost a five-shot lead on the back nine at the Mas­ters, com­ing un­done with a quadru­ple-bo­gey 7 on the 12th hole.

It was more of a slow bleed at Royal Birk­dale, with three bo­geys on the open­ing four holes and four putts in­side 8 feet that he missed on the front nine to fall into a tie with Kuchar.

And then it fell apart, or so it seemed.

His tee shot in the rain on the par-4 13th was so far right it sailed over the gallery, over the dunes be­hind them and was closer to the prac­tice range than the fair­way. When he fi­nally found the ball, it was nes­tled in thick grass on a hill so steep Spi­eth could barely stand up.

Kuchar was 15 feet away for birdie, wait­ing — and wait­ing — on the green. Spi­eth ap­peared to be headed for a dou­ble bo­gey at best.

But the break of the tour­na­ment — and a mo­ment that will rate along­side Seve Balles­teros mak­ing birdie from the car park when he won at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 1979 — was when Spi­eth dis­cov­ered the range was part of the course.

He took a one-shot penalty for an un­playable lie and took re­lief as far back as he wanted, onto the range, be­hind the equip­ment trucks. Then he re­ceived free re­lief from the trucks. That still left him a blind shot over the tall dunes to a fair­way lit­tered with pot bunkers.

His 3-iron stopped just short of one of them in front of the green, and he pitched over it to about 7 feet and holed the putt to es­cape with bo­gey.

Kuchar missed his birdie, but had the lead for the first time.

Spi­eth had mo­men­tum from his bo­gey, and his 6iron landed in front of the flag and missed go­ing in by inches. He made a 4-footer for birdie to tie for the lead, and then seized con­trol with a 50-foot ea­gle putt on the 15th hole, look­ing at cad­die Michael Greller filled with play­ful bravado and bark­ing, “Go get that!”

Spi­eth said his cad­die played a mas­sive role in keep­ing his head in the game. “I was get­ting down on my­self, as I think any­one would,” Spi­eth said. “This is as much mine as it is his.”

Kuchar made birdie from the bunker on the 15th to stay one be­hind, but he had no an­swer when Spi­eth poured in a 30-foot birdie at the 16th. And af­ter Kuchar rolled in a 20-foot birdie on the 17th to stay in the game, Spi­eth buried a 7-foot birdie on top of him to keep that two-shot lead go­ing to the 18th.

The se­quence left the crowd — the largest ever for a Bri­tish Open in Eng­land — sim­ply deliri­ous.

And they weren’t alone. “Is Jor­dan Spi­eth some­thing else?” Jack Nick­laus tweeted.

Zach John­son, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler were among those who waited by the 18th to watch Spi­eth cap­ture yet an­other ma­jor. John­son won at St. An­drews two years ago, when Spi­eth missed the play­off by one shot in his bid for the cal­en­dar Grand Slam. Spi­eth drank wine from the jug that year, which he was told was bad luck for any­one want­ing to pos­sess the tro­phy one day.

“I started to be­lieve them a bit through nine holes to­day,” he said. “It feels good to have this in my hands.”

From the driv­ing range to the claret jug, Spi­eth put him­self in hal­lowed ter­ri­tory just four days be­fore his 24th birth­day. He joined Nick­laus as the only player to win three dif­fer­ent ma­jors at age 23. Gene Sarazen in 1923 was the only other player with three ma­jors that young. The Squire was 21.

Spi­eth goes to Quail Hol­low in North Carolina next month with a chance to get that fi­nal leg of the Grand Slam.

Kuchar closed with a 69 and did noth­ing wrong. He just had no an­swers for Spi­eth’s fi­nal blitz. Kuchar had a one-shot lead leav­ing the 13th green. He played the next four holes with two pars and two birdies and was two shots be­hind.

Spi­eth fin­ished at 12-un­der 268. He be­came the first player to post all four rounds in the 60s at Royal Birk­dale, which was host­ing its 10th Open.

Li Hao­tong of China shot a 63 and fin­ished third at 6-un­der 274. He was on the prac­tice range in case the lead­ers came back to him, and Spi­eth joined him there as he tried to fig­ure out how to get out of his pickle on the 13th.

Mo­ments later, with one mas­sive roar af­ter an­other for Spi­eth’s the­atrics, Li got in a cart and left.

Austin Con­nelly (73), a dual Cana­dian-Amer­i­can cit­i­zen who was born in Irv­ing, Texas, tied for 14th at 2 un­der.

PETER MOR­RI­SON, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Jor­dan Spi­eth stands on a mound to look at his ball on the 13th hole, be­fore he be­gan his epic fin­ish to win The Open at Royal Birk­dale on Sun­day.

STU­ART FRANKLIN, GETTY IM­AGES

Jor­dan Spi­eth blows on his ball be­fore be­gin­ning his jour­ney to be­com­ing the Cham­pion Golfer of the Year.

PETER MOR­RI­SON, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Jor­dan Spi­eth and Matt Kuchar greet Kuchar’s fam­ily af­ter Spi­eth won his third ma­jor cham­pi­onship Sun­day.

DAVE THOMP­SON, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

North­ern Ire­land’s Rory McIl­roy plays out of a bunker on the 18th green Sun­day. He fin­ished seven shots be­hind Jor­dan Spi­eth.

DAVE THOMP­SON, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Canada’s Austin Con­nelly chips out of the bunker on the first hole. He fin­ished tied for 14th at 2 un­der.

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