Date: July 24, 2017
Author: Martin Blake

Open wrap: Epic finish gives Spieth title


Jordan Spieth will come to Sydney in November as the champion golfer of the year, winner of the oldest and most storied tournament in the world, and with at least three legs of the career Grand Slam.

Spieth, the 23-year-old American, won the Open Championship by three shots today after an epic two-man duel with his compatriot Matt Kuchar that went right to the 72nd hole at Royal Birkdale.

His first Open Championship win is great news for Golf Australia, which has drawn a commitment from the Texan to defend his title at the Emirates Australian Open at The Australian Golf Club from 23-26 November.

By then, Spieth will have had his first tilt at completing the fabled career Slam when he plays the US PGA Championship at Quail Hollow in North Carolina in August.

The American has now won the Masters (2015), US Open (2015) and Open Championship of the modern major championships.

Only legends of the game – Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Gene Sarazen – have won all four legs of the Slam.

He joins only the great Nicklaus as having won three different majors before the age of 24, an astonishing feat by the Texan, who is coached by Australian Cameron McCormick. His 24th birthday is this week.

Spieth won the Emirates Australian Open at The Australian on debut in 2014, came close at the same venue in 2015, then won a playoff for the title at Royal Sydney last year with a birdie on the first playoff hole.

Today’s win was anything but the dawdle that some had predicted, although it ended with the same three-shot margin over Kuchar that he had started with on Sunday.

Spieth shot a one-under par 69 for a 12-under par total, but it took a withering late burst for him to reach that point.

Starting with a three-shot lead over Kuchar, he immediately opened the door for his Ryder Cup teammate with a bogey at the first hole, then another dropped shot at the third and another at the fourth.

It was game-on with the lead shared, although Spieth pulled back to a two-shot lead before at the ninth, he three-putted to be out in three-over par 37, while Kucher birdied from close range to rejoin the lead. A further Spieth bogey at the drama-charged par-four 13th hole, where he had to take a penalty drop and play from the practice area, saw Kuchar on the verge of his first-ever major win.

Spieth, who had blown his drive way right, apologised to Kuchar for taking so long over his shot to the green but made the tricky putt to complete bogey, and walked to the 14th tee a shot behind.

But this is when Spieth surged, starting with an amazing tee shot at the par-three 14th hole that almost hit the stick as it passed, setting up an easy birdie putt. Spieth is widely regarded as the world’s best putter – possibly the best-ever – and the flat stick came into play with a bombed eagle putt at the par-five 15th hole. Another long birdie putt at the 16th and then a comfortable birdie on the par-five 17th left him two shots ahead of Kuchar with a hole to play.

He had picked up five shots in an incredible four-hole streak just when it seemed that he might be headed for the kind of epic meltdown that he endured at the Masters tournament in 2016, the greatest disappointment of his short but brilliant career.

Taking iron off the tee at the final hole, Spieth hit the green in regulation, leaving Kuchar with a task that was beyond him. Kuchar took dead aim at the flag on 18, cut hard left, but tugged his iron shot into the greenside pot and when he walked up the applause through the amphitheatre, found that his ball was dreadfully plugged.

He took bogey while Spieth calmly two-putted, finishing the job with a tap-in and hugging his caddie Michael Greller, whom he credited with keeping him rolling through the difficulties of the front nine today. Calling it “not quite an ideal start’’, he was grateful for the support of his caddie and friend. “I was getting down on myself as pretty much anyone would,’’ he said.

Kuchar was outright second, his best finish in a major at nine-under, with China’s Li Haotong third at six-under.

Marc Leishman was the leading Australian, tied-sixth at four-under after a fine 65 today. Adam Scott was 22nd after a closing 67 while Aaron Baddeley rattled around in 64 to tie-27th along with Jason Day, who had a 71.

But it was unequivocally Spieth’s day. The young man from Dallas took a long look at the famous claret jug and told the crowd: “This is incredible. This is absolutely a dream come true. I was able to drink a bit of wine out of it when Zach Johnson won it two years ago and a lot of people told me that was bad luck. I started to believe them through nine holes today! But it feels good to have this in my hands.’’