Jordan Spieth holds on to win 146th British Open
Jack Nicklaus is the only other golfer to win 3 majors by the age of 23
Jordan Spieth 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 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.
"This is as much of a high as I've ever experienced in my golfing life," Spieth said.
A near ace. A 50-foot eagle putt . A 30-foot birdie putt.
Spieth played the final five holes in 5 under and closed with a 1-under 69 for a three-shot victory over Matt Kuchar, giving him 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.
The one that won it. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TheOpen?src=hash">#TheOpen</a> <a href="https://t.co/RfrJdByJXP">pic.twitter.com/RfrJdByJXP</a>—@TheOpen
"This is a dream come true for me," Spieth said, gazing at his name on the silver claret jug. "Absolutely a dream come true."
Canada's Austin Connelly shot a 3-over 73 to finish at 2-under and a tie for 14th place overall.
Spieth joined Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win three different majors by the age 23, and even the Golden Bear was impressed.
"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.
Wow! What a wild back nine! Is <a href="https://twitter.com/JordanSpieth">@JordanSpieth</a> something else?—@jacknicklaus
Spieth missed four putts inside 8 feet on the front nine and lost his three-shot lead. Then, he looked certain to lose the British Open — and the reputation he craves as a reliable closer — when his tee shot on the par-4 13th was some 75 yards right of the fairway, buried in grass on a dune so steep he could barely stand up.
He took a penalty shot for an unplayable lie, and when he realized the practice range was in play, headed back on a line so far that he was behind the equipment trucks. He still had a blind shot with a 3-iron over the dunes to a fairway littered with pot bunkers, stopping just short of one of them near the green.
Remarkable recovery from <a href="https://twitter.com/JordanSpieth">@jordanspieth</a>. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TheOpen?src=hash">#TheOpen</a> <a href="https://t.co/VAR5J3lsgp">pic.twitter.com/VAR5J3lsgp</a>—@TheOpen
Kuchar, who had to wait 20 minutes for Spieth to get his situation sorted, missed his 15-foot birdie putt. Spieth pitched over the bunker to 7 feet and made the putt to escape with bogey, falling behind for the first time.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself unfortunately, and not on purpose, before the round today, just thinking this is the best opportunity that I've had since the `16 Masters," he said. "And if it weren't to go my way today, then all I'm going to be questioned about and thought about and murmured about is in comparison to that. And that adds a lot of pressure to me.
"Closing today was extremely important for the way I look at myself."
Spieth gets on a roll
And that's when the show began.
Spieth hit a 6-iron that plopped down in front of the pin at the par-3 14th and came within inches of a hole-in-one. He rolled in a 4-foot birdie putt and tied Kuchar. Given new life, he holed a 50-foot eagle putt and turned to caddie Michael Greller and said, "Go get that!"
Unbelievable! <a href="https://twitter.com/JordanSpieth">@jordanspieth</a> holes an eagle at the 15th. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TheOpen?src=hash">#TheOpen</a> <a href="https://t.co/DuRgow3ldg">pic.twitter.com/DuRgow3ldg</a>—@TheOpen
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."
Emotions rolling, Spieth followed with a 30-foot birdie at the 16th and was ahead by two. And after Kuchar holed a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-5 17th, Spieth assured himself a two-shot margin up the final hole by pouring in yet another birdie.
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 days before his 24th birthday. Nicklaus was about six months younger than Spieth when he won the 1963 PGA Championship for the third leg of the Grand Slam.
In the Masters era (since 1934), 2 players have won 3 majors before their 24th birthday - <a href="https://twitter.com/jacknicklaus">@jacknicklaus</a> and Jordan Spieth.—@ESPNStatsInfo
Spieth goes to Quail Hollow in North Carolina next month with a chance to get that final portion 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.
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."
Li Haotong of China shot a 63 and finished third.
With files from CBC Sports