SOUTHPORT: Jordan Spieth recovered from the brink of a disastrous collapse to regain his nerve and win the British Open with a breathtaking late flourish at Royal Birkdale on Sunday.
The 23-year-old American ended up shooting a one-under-par round of 69 to finish 12-under and claim his third major title by three strokes from compatriot Matt Kuchar.
Spieth had been top of the leaderboard after each of the first three rounds and, having already won the Masters and US Open in 2015, his victory saw him emulate the great Jack Nicklaus in getting his hands on a third different major before turning 24.
But this was very nearly a historic meltdown from Spieth equal only in recent times to his own collapse in the 2016 Masters, when he threw away a five-stroke lead halfway through his final round to hand the green jacket to Danny Willett.
“This was eventful. Seventeen pars and a birdie would have been fine too, but there are a lot of roads to get there,” Spieth said after receiving the Claret Jug trophy to go with the US$1.85 million (RM7.9 million) cheque for the winner.
Spieth had let a three-stroke overnight advantage fritter away by the fourth hole. Although he soon moved two ahead again, he was playing some wayward stuff off the tee in particular and catastrophe nearly struck at the par-four 13th.
After hitting his drive miles right into unplayable thick rough, Spieth became engaged in a lengthy debate with officials before taking a drop from the adjacent practice ground.
The images brought back memories of Jean Van de Velde’s infamous collapse at Carnoustie in 1999, when he ended up in a water hazard at the last as he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
But somehow Spieth salvaged a bogey to trail Kuchar by just one shot, and the response on the following holes was emphatic.
A birdie at the short 14th came after he nearly holed his tee shot, and he then went eagle-birdie-birdie to see off Kuchar’s own charge.
“I was in a tough one early on, but I showed resilience. As you can imagine thoughts came in from my last scenario where I was leading a major on a Sunday,” Spieth added.
“The wheels had kind of come off everything and we were trying to work out how to get back on track to salvage the round, and it took a bogey to do so.”
He does not celebrate his 24th birthday until next Thursday and is the youngest winner of the Claret Jug since the late Spaniard Seve Ballesteros triumphed at Royal Lytham in 1979 aged 22.
Crushing’ for Kuchar
Spieth’s win ends a run of seven consecutive majors going to players who had never previously won one of golf’s biggest prizes.
Kuchar had been hoping to extend that run and become the sixth champion from the last seven Opens aged 39 or older.
“It’s crushing. It hurts. And there is excitement and a thrill to have played well, put up a battle, put up a fight,” said Kuchar.
“You work so hard to get to this position, you don’t get many opportunities. To be this close, taste it with five holes to go, it’s a hard one to sit back and take.”
Spieth is the sixth American winner in 10 Opens held at Birkdale, following in the footsteps of Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson among others.
China’s Li Haotong caused a sensation as he came from nowhere to finish third thanks to a seven-under-par final round of 63.
The 21-year-old finished on six-under for the championship and his is the best ever finish for a Chinese golfer in a major.
His round would have equalled the best ever in a major had Branden Grace of South Africa not shot 62 on Saturday.
“It’s kind of a dream come true, you know,” he said.
Rory McIlroy, the 2014 champion, finished with a 67 to share fourth on five-under with Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello.
Last year’s winner Henrik Stenson ended on three-under but his playing partner, world number one Dustin Johnson, shot 77 and finished way down on four over par.