STEVE PERKIN watches the up, down and up final round of a spectacular British Open:
IF THE EXPLOITS of last year’s British Open weren’t staggering enough, Jordan Spieth turned on an afternoon of golf yesterday that was unbelievable for the full range of reasons.
For 13 holes, it was extraordinarily bad. For the final five holes, it was head-shakingly spectacular.
In the end, the 23-year-old American won by three shots from a brave Matt Kucher, who, at so many stages in the afternoon, must have thought things were falling in his lap. Until it was Spieth who fell in it.
Spieth has now won the three of the four Majors, and in winning this one he has shown, not for the first time, the cast-iron determination that Henrik Stenson displayed last year in his final-round battle with Phil Mickelson.
It was a final hour that will go down in golfing folklore, and it started when
little know Chinese golfer Li Haotong putted out on the last for a 63 and a four-round total of six under, which seemed totally irrelevant until it wasn’t.
Spieth and Kucher were only half-way through their rounds at that stage but they were backing up with such speed that others were quickly coming into contention.
Spieth, in particular, was showing the vulnerability that has affected his game in several recent Majors, while Kucher was just doing what he does, bunting the ball down the middle, making a few putts and missing a few
At the 13th, it got really interesting.
Spieth’s drive finished in an unplayable lie in the rough. As he sought advice from an official, Kucher smashed his long second shot on to the green.
As the extraordinary scenes unfolded, you knew this would be the bit that television stations would package up for their nightly news coverages, Spieth picking up his ball and carrying it metres off to the practice fairway, behind trucks, hills and spectators, so that he could get a flat lie while maintaining the appropriate line to the flag.
His resulting three wood carried everything and finished just short of the green, but he was lying three on a par four and another bogey seemed inevitable. As it was, and with Kucher parring, we had a new leader.
Players who had started the day seven, eight and nine shots behind were now in contention, and most of them weren’t playing very well.
Rory McIlroy shot a 67, which included a lost ball, and finished at five under, while Cabrera Bello came through in the next group with a 68 to finish six under, and Stenson a 70 for three under.
Behind them, things had gotten sillier. After an extraordinary bogey at 13 and going four over par for the day, Spieth birdied 14 then eagled 15 after a monster putt. It was as if hitting over trucks and spectators had woken him up.
As if that wasn’t enough, he rolled in another bomb at 16 and then matched Kutcher’s birdie at 17.
Spieth had gone birdie, eagle, birdie, birdie and went to the last tee with a two-shot lead. And that was enough. The day had ended pretty much at it had started, but what went on in between could not have been scripted.
Of the Aussies, Marc Leishman finished in a tie for sixth, his supposed strength proving his undoing. Schooled at life and golf in Warrnambool, it’s said that he’s a wonderful wind player, but when the wind really blew on Friday, Leishman shot 75 and such scores seldom lead to Major titles.
Aaron Baddeley got his putter working and carded a 64, which a lot of other players would have paid him for if they could have.
Any hopes of a Jason Day miracle disappeared with his first shot of the day. A drive out-of-bounds right and a double bogey made the unlikely impossible. He fought on to play the remaining 17 holes in one under, but it didn’t matter.
As for his playing partner, Scott Hend, a final round 74 wasn’t what he’d hoped for. The wind had left his sails well before he teed off.
But it was Spieth’s Open and now he will rightfully be restored to world number one, or if he isn’t, he should be. He’s certainly made of the right stuff.
And, as for Li Haotong, well he ended up finishing third, a lot closer than he could have imagined when he tapped in his final par.
Author: Steve Perkin
STEVE PERKIN had a long and distinguished career as a journalist, covering sport and general news and writing daily columns for The Age and the Herald Sun. He was also executive producer of The Footy Show on Channel 9 for three years.