Spi­eth’s wild ride

Texan’s shot from the driv­ing range spurs Bri­tish Open vic­tory.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

SOUTH­PORT, Eng­land — Dur­ing one of Jor­dan Spi­eth’s many low points Sun­day in the Bri­tish Open, his cad­die re­minded him of a photo from a Mex­ico beach hol­i­day two weeks ago that showed him in All-Star com­pany that in­cluded Michael Phelps and Michael Jor­dan.

The mes­sage: “You be­long in that group.”

Spi­eth left lit­tle doubt with a clos­ing per­for­mance that ranks among cham­pi­onship golf’s great­est fin­ishes.

Trail­ing for the first time all week­end at Royal Birk­dale — and lucky it was only one stroke af­ter hit­ting his third shot from the driv­ing range — the 23-year-old Texan fol­lowed with a birdie-ea­gle-birdie-birdie stretch that al­lowed him to close with a 1-un­der 69 and win the Bri­tish Open by three shots over Matt Kuchar.

Spi­eth cap­tured the third leg of the ca­reer Grand Slam and heads to the PGA Cham­pi­onship next month with a chance to be the youngest to win them all.

“This is as much of a high as I’ve ever ex­pe­ri­enced in my golf­ing life,” Spi­eth said.

It all started af­ter Spi­eth landed in a spot so dire it looked as though he would en- dure an­other ma­jor melt­down.

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

His tee shot was so far to the right on the par-4 13th hole that it sailed some 75 yards from the fair­way and set­tled in thick grass on a dune so steep he could hardly stand up, let alone take a swing. The only smart op­tion was to take a one-shot penalty for an un­playable lie.

And that’s when Spi­eth showed his golf­ing brain is as valu­able as any club in his bag.

He had the pres­ence to ask if the driv­ing range was out of bounds. It wasn’t, which al­lowed him to go back in a straight line from the flag un­til he was on the range among the equip­ment trucks, from which he re­ceived re­lief. He still faced a blind shot over the dunes to a hole lit­tered by pot bunkers. He hit 3-iron just short of a bunker near the green, pitched over it to about 7 feet, and made what he con­sid­ers the most im­por­tant putt of the day to es­cape with bo­gey.

Then, he made like Phelps and Jor­dan.

Spi­eth hit 6-iron to the par3 14th that landed in front of the flag and came within inches of an ace, lead­ing to a short birdie putt to re­gain a share of the lead.

On the par-5 15th, he rolled in a 50-foot ea­gle putt and play­fully barked at cad­die Michael Greller to pick it out of the cup. “Go get that,” he said, point­ing to the hole.

Kuchar birdied to stay within one shot, but Spi­eth wasn’t done.

Spi­eth rolled in a 30-foot putt across the 16th green for a two-shot lead, and he kept that mar­gin by pour­ing in a 7-foot putt to match birdies with Kuchar at the par-5 17th.

The fi­nal putt for par was a tap-in, as easy a shot as he had all day.

“To fol­low that bo­gey on 13 with great golf shots and great putts, and play the fi­nal five holes in 5-un­der par, I was just very happy for him and very im­pressed to watch all that guts, de­ter­mi­na­tion and skill,” Jack Nick­laus posted on Face­book.

Spi­eth and Jack Nick­laus are the only play­ers to win three dif­fer­ent ma­jors at age 23.

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

Kuchar, play­ing in the fi­nal group of a ma­jor for the first time, couldn’t keep up, but he hardly crum­bled.

Kuchar had a one-shot lead af­ter 13 holes, played the next four holes with two birdies and two pars and found him­self two shots be­hind and out of luck.

Kuchar walked off the green to find his wife and two sons wait­ing, a sur­prise be­cause they had been in Colorado the day be­fore, and it added to the emo­tions.

“It’s crush­ing. It hurts. And it’s an ex­cite­ment and a thrill to have played well, put up a bat­tle, put up a fight,” said Kuchar, who closed with a 69. “I can only con­trol what I do, how I play. Jor­dan is a great cham­pion and cer­tainly played that way in the fin­ish­ing stretch to­day. It was im­pres­sive stuff. All you can re­ally do is sit back, tip your cap and say, ‘Well done.’ And it was cer­tainly a show that he put on.”

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.

AP/AN­DREW MATTHEWS

Jor­dan Spi­eth had four bo­geys through the first nine holes of the fi­nal round of the Bri­tish Open on Sun­day, but the 23-year-old re­bounded to close with a 1-un­der 69 to hold off Matt Kuchar and win the third ma­jor cham­pi­onship of his ca­reer.

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