Jordan Spieth’s victory in the 146th Open Championship marked the second year in a row that the Champion Golfer of the Year emerged after a tense all-day battle with a tough adversary.
But unlike last year at Royal Troon, when Henrik Stenson outlasted Phil Mickelson in one of the great head-to-head contests in major championship history, Spieth had to overcome a fight with himself. Fellow American and eventual runner-up Matt Kuchar was indeed a worthy opponent on the final day at Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport, England on July 23, but the real story was how Spieth fell apart early in the final round only to pull himself together and play the final five holes in 5 under par after losing the 54-hole lead.
One veteran golf writer wrote that, “Spieth’s final nine ranks with the most compelling golf theater I have ever witnessed.”
Already a two-time major winner, Spieth had to ward off demons that had dogged him since the 2016 Masters, when he lost a five-shot lead over the final nine holes at Augusta National Golf Club to open the door for Danny Willett. This time, Spieth lost a three-stroke lead to Kuchar after only four holes.
And when he bogeyed the par-4 13th after a lengthy interlude that included a penalty drop onto the practice range at Royal Birkdale, he fell behind Kuchar by as stroke and appeared to be unraveling.
Then came the phenomenal birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie run starting at the par-3 14th, when he almost holed his tee shot for an ace. There was nothing Kuchar could do but watch as Spieth, 23, claimed Champion Golfer of the Year. He completed 72 holes in 12-under 268, three clear of Kuchar, seeking his first major title.
China’s Hao Ton Li took third place at 6-under 274 after a closing 7-under 63. Rory McIlroy, the 2014 champion, tied for fourth place with Spain’s Rafael Cabrera Bello at 275.
“It’s incredible. This is one of the most sought after trophies in the world and the most sought after in our sport,” the Dallas native said after an emotional day on the links. “To be able to have my name on it, and already see that, is a dream come true. My last goal now is to try to complete a career Grand Slam.”
With his 11th PGA TOUR win, Spieth joined Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win three major titles before the age of 24. Winner of the 2015 Masters and U.S. Open, he is the 18th golfer overall to win three different majors and has a chance to join Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen as winners of the career Grand Slam if he can win the PGA Championship. His first crack at it comes in just a few weeks at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C.
Following scores of 65, 69 and 65 for a 199 total, which set the 54-hole scoring record in a British Open at Royal Birkdale, Spieth carded a final round of 69 to become only the sixth player to win the Claret Jug wire-to-wire. Woods was the last player to do it, in 2005 at the Old Course at St. Andrews.
“This is a dream come true. An absolute dream come true,” Spieth said. “This is as much of a high as I have experienced in my golfing life.”
A lot of people who watched it all unfold probably felt the same way.