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The Open: Jordan Spieth keeps cool to set up a challenge for career Grand Slam

 

By Liam Kelly

Jordan Spieth, the baby faced assassin of Birkdale, sprayed his golf ball like bullets all over the property on a bizarre Sunday showdown, but never wavered from his mission to take the Claret Jug back to the USA.

At the end of a dramatic afternoon's golf, Spieth was the last man standing as he towered over the shattered hopes and dreams of top world stars, including his Ryder Cup team mate Matt Kuchar, world number one Dustin Johnson, and our own Rory McIlroy.

With this victory, his third major after the 2015 Masters and US Open, Spieth now looks ahead to the US PGA at Quail Hollow where he can achieve a career Grand Slam.

At one stage on the back nine he looked like repeating his meltdown at the 2016 Masters where he look unassailable around the turn, only to lose to Danny Willett.

Spieth did not deny that crossed his mind when he got in trouble at the 13th hole, but his inner ruthlessness and clear-eyed appreciation of his options enabled him to turn potential disaster into a platform for success.

Afterwards he spoke of the potential for a Grand Slam, saying: "It's incredible, it's a career goal," but he was adamant he would make sure to enjoy this achievement.

"I'm going to thoroughly enjoy this. I look back on '15, and I thought, yeah I enjoyed it, but I never realised the significance until you kind of hit a low, hit a pitfall to appreciate the high so much.

"And this is as much of a high as I've ever experienced in my golfing life."

The manner of his victory was a potent mixture of the bizarre and the grotesque, before it culminated in a sublime finish over the closing stages of the championship.

Spieth's closing five holes went: birdie eagle, birdie, birdie par for a 69, and 12-under par 268.

Runner-up Matt Kuchar also shot 69, and finished on nine-under, losing by three shots.

Who could believe that a player of Spieth's quality could carve his tee shot at the 13th so high and wide into the hills far from the fairway?

And then came a crazy 20 minutes of confusion and deliberation with referees as Spieth sought to minimise the possible damage.

Further and further he moved away from the spot where the ball had landed, seeking the ideal line of sight after deeming the ball unplayable and accepting he would need a penalty drop.

Spieth checked if the practice ground was out of bounds, and was told it wasn't, so he dropped his ball behind an equipment manufacturer's mobile workshop.

From where he got a free drop because of the truck obstruction, and slammed a 3-iron across country, landing the ball short of the green from where he made a bogey.

Echoes of Seve Ballesteros and his 'car park' shot at Lytham in 1979 there, and in both cases, for all the commotion and excitement, the men who took the route less travelled won the Championship.

But what a kick in the teeth for Matt Kuchar who showed great fortitude in refusing to complain about the length of time Spieth took before he eventually hit his shot.

" We knew Jordan was in a great deal of trouble on 13. I went ahead and played my second shot knowing that it was going to be a while.

" I wanted to hit it while I was still somewhat fresh and in the mood of swinging a club. I hit a great shot and knew we were in for a big delay," said Kuchar.

He began the day at eight-under par, three shots behind Spieth, and the two of them played in the final group.

'Kuch' had spoken on Saturday, when they were also paired together, of trying to focus on playing the course and not turning it into a match play contest. That was his goal yesterday, but as challengers dropped away, it evolved into an all-USA contest.

Spieth hit some wild shots off line, and had dropped three shots by the turn and Kuchar plotted a steady enough course, so that after 10 holes they were tied at eight-under par.

On the 11th Spieth hit his tee shot into the gallery and that led to a bogey. Kuchar's par gave him a one shot lead going up the 12th, where they both made par.

And then came the fateful 13th, where Spieth's bogey was nearly as good as a birdie in the circumstances.

His knowledge of the rules of golf stood him in good stead, and he was never going to be rushed into a hasty option. Ironically, he and Kuchar had been asked to speed up their play before the 13th incident occurred.

"Having been in unplayable situations before, I just asked the questions, is the driving range out of bounds? And I got the answer, no.

"And I thought, well then, that's a much better location for me to hit the next shot because I can get it much closer to the green, and it saves me almost a full stroke from going back to the tee," said Spieth.

He was fired up after a birdie on 14, and then that eagle at the 15th where he holed a raker. A huge moment.

Best score of the day was a fabulous 63 by China's Haotong Li, who came third on six-under par.

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