Gutsy Jordan Spieth toasted a dream come true after he battled back from the brink of another Major collapse to win the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.
Spieth trailed Matt Kuchar by one shot after the 13th, where a disastrous tee shot saw him take a drop on the driving range, but responded in magnificent fashion, playing the next four holes in five under par, to go three shots clear of his fellow American and claim a third Major title.
The 23-year-old is the only man to match Jack Nicklaus’s feat of winning three legs of the career grand slam before turning 24 and Spieth can complete the set next month at the US PGA Championship.
“It’s incredible,” said Spieth, whose closing 69 left him with a winning score of 12 under.
“This is one of the most sought-after trophies in the world, and the most sought after in our sport. To be able to have my name on it is a dream come true. My last goal now is to try to complete a career grand slam.”
Kuchar, 39, had to settle for his best finish at a Major, while Chinese youngster Li Haotong, 21, earned third place, three shots further back on six under, after shooting a 63 – the day’s best round.
Former world No1 Rory McIlroy and Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello finished strongly, carding 67 and 68 respectively, to share fourth place on five under, with England’s Matthew Southgate another shot adrift in a five-way tie for sixth place.
Spieth started the day three ahead of Kuchar but bogied three of the first four holes and looked in danger of repeating his final-day meltdown at last year’s Masters when his tee shot at the par four 13th sailed 100 yards right of the fairway.
The Texan took 20 minutes to consult officials before taking a penalty drop and playing from the driving range, improbably limiting the damage to a bogey. It proved the start of a heroic fightback.
Spieth responded with an immediate birdie after nearly holing the par three 14th in one, then drained a monster 30-foot putt for an eagle at 15. Two successive birdies followed as he blew Kuchar away and landed the Claret Jug.
“I needed something. Somehow it came from an errant drive, a crazy drop and a bogey, to get me going. I was uncomfortable on the greens then all of a sudden I couldn’t miss,” he added.
“Two Majors in 2015, then we go to 2016 and I had one wrapped up and didn’t quite close [the Masters]. Those kind of thoughts come into your head on a day like today, when I’m through four holes and I’m thinking ‘are we going to go through this again?’. It took a while to get over it – and I’m over it.”
Defending champion Henrik Stenson shot a 70 to finish tied for 11th with England’s Paul Casey on three under. World No1 Dustin Johnson finished four over par after a 77.