Wednesday 20 November 2019

Comment - Jordan Spieth pulls out of spiral to avoid Devon Loch moment

USA's Jordan Spieth celebrates with the claret jug after winning the Open Championship 2017 at Royal Birkdale Golf Club, Southport. Photo: PA
USA's Jordan Spieth celebrates with the claret jug after winning the Open Championship 2017 at Royal Birkdale Golf Club, Southport. Photo: PA

Paul Hayward

In Red Rum’s home town, Jordan Spieth overcame an Aintree of complications to save his final round – and avoid a Devon Loch moment. And ‘save’ is putting it lightly. For 20 minutes at the 13th, the new Open champion’s career was heading down the hole he appeared to have dug for it with two meltdowns, at the Masters in 2016 and again this spring.

A third collapse on the final day of a major championship might have been too much for anyone to bear, even one this tough and talented. On Royal Birkdale’s practice ground, Spieth struck a shot over the television vans to begin a miraculous recovery.

From Jean van de Velde humiliation territory, the 2015 Masters and US Open champion turned it around with a miraculous display of skill and fortitude.

No wonder he said: “Today took as much out of me as any day that I’ve ever played golf.”

From that long back-and-forth of rules interpretation, Spieth somehow managed to drop just one shot at the 13th and then went birdie, eagle, birdie, birdie.

Each of us here at Birkdale watched him drop his ball in Sky’s Open Zone way beyond the 13th fairway and expected the stress to overwhelm him. Never has a ball hitting a spectator on the head and ricocheting down a steep bank started such a dramatic chain of events.

Van de Velde rolled his trousers up, jumped in the creek and threw away the 1999 Open at Carnoustie at the 18th hole. Spieth, on the other hand, used his third ordeal in major championships in 15 months to inspire him.

Rejoining Matt Kuchar on the 13th green, Spieth told him: “Sorry about that, man, my bad.”

Bad turned into wonderful.

Birdie, eagle, birdie, birdie. This ornithological sequence will stay with him forever, and marks the point where his status as golf’s prodigy was restored. In a blizzard of stats, the best may yet be Spieth’s age. He is 23.

At last year’s Masters he took quadruple bogey seven on the par-three 12th. His lead heading into the back nine had been five shots. In the event he succumbed by three to Danny Willett.

A year later, Spieth went quadruple bogey again, this time with a nine at the par-five 15th.

All great golfers have known nightmare holes. But for Spieth to have known them twice in 12 months at the Masters was inescapably ominous.

This time, anxiety came to his rescue, eventually.

“Once I lost my lead completely and we were tied, I actually felt the nerves go away for a few holes until I got the lead again,” he said.

“And then they were back. And it’s just kind of powering through that. You don’t know really what your mind is going to do to you sometimes. You can control it to an extent, but certain situations are going to bring more tension, and you have to kind of channel that the right way, play the right shots. That was a difficult thing to do because it was just so up and down.”

In 2015 he matched Tiger Woods’ Augusta record of 18-under par, posting a record 28 birdies. Then he won the US Open and finished second in the PGA Championship. The future of golf was his.

The shape of the game was the Spieth-Rory McIlroy rivalry. Spieth was a cool Texan with a hot putter. For American golf, he filled part of the void left by Woods. He was polite and friendly and just about everything America wants its golfers to be.

On this rainy evening in north-west England, he spoke beautifully about his wildly fluctuating day.

After the Masters, pundits talked freely about how long it would take him to recover.

Consider this, too: Spieth began this final round with a three-shot lead over Kuchar. By the fourth hole, the two Americans were level. At the ninth, where he three-putted, feebly, Spieth left the green mumbling: “Really?” He meant, ‘really, did I just do that?’

His final round was slipping away. So the mayhem at the 13th was not an isolated wobble. Spieth had already found trouble from holes one to 12. He was edgy and backing off putts. Kuchar was sticking to him.


Yet falling a shot behind at the 13th seemed to calm him.

“As you can imagine, thoughts came in from my last scenario when I was leading a major on Sunday,” he said. “I never mentioned it, but all of a sudden it creeps into your head.

“I was so confident and all of a sudden, the wheels have kind of come off everything. And how do we get back on track to salvage this round? It took a bogey to do so.”

So now his gilded path from that practice ground leads to the PGA Championship, where he could complete the set of major titles.

“It’s a life goal of mine. It’s a career goal,” he said.

Two years ago at the Masters, was an internal voice that kept asking, even yesterday: “How could I not close out a five-stroke lead with nine to play?” That voice has been silenced (© The Daily Telegraph)

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