If the climax to last year’s Open Championship duel between Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson was sheer brilliance, then this year’s spectacular tussle between Jordan Spieth and Matt Kuchar was pure drama.
I would have bet anything on Kuchar lifting the Claret Jug when Spieth’s wayward tee shot at the 13th hole on Sunday veered 100 feet wide of the fairway, forcing him to take a penalty drop on the practice range.
Spieth had to hit his third shot blind and left himself a near impossible chip, yet mustered an incredible up and down and showed exactly what he is made of by holing out to salvage a bogey.
He’d have been finished if he had made a seven there; shooting five was beyond belief and effectively won Spieth the tournament as it gave him such a lift. From then on he was the red-hot favourite.
It became almost like matchplay golf. I don’t think he was thinking about the title so much as just beating Kuchar, the man next to him. Spieth dug deep and showed that he can be a street fighter.
Everything changed: his swing, his demeanour. The struggles of the end of his second round and the front nine on Sunday disappeared and he played the next four shots in five under par.
I’ve never seen anything like it. Charl Schwartzel birdied the last four on his way to winning the 2011 Masters, but this was Spieth going from the depths of despair to height of glory.
Spieth showed great composure by responding in kind after Kuchar had birdied the 17th. It was another brave putt and maintained his two-shot lead heading to the last, which was huge and all the more remarkable given that he blew a five-shot lead at Augusta last year.
It was an inspiring show of resolve and Spieth is some champion. He has had a lean spell following his breakthrough Majors in 2015 but, with the Open representing back-to-back wins, he is certainly back.
He’s now a more experienced golfer who knows without doubt what he is capable of in the biggest arena.
He has also joined Jack Nicklaus on a very elite list of players to win three different Majors before turning 24, and that has heated up his rivalry with Rory McIlroy nicely.
McIlroy like a Ferrari running on diesel
Both are one leg shy of the career grand slam and it would be wonderful to see them in the final group on Sunday at next month’s US PGA Championship.
McIlroy produced his latest another error-strewn, majestic performance as he coasted to a tie for fourth place at Birkdale, despite a bad start to the tournament.
It’s so frustrating to watch him stutter – it’s like seeing a Ferrari running on diesel – but he showed resolve.
I felt sorry for Kuchar, who hardly out a foot wrong and was the perfect gentleman, magnanimous in defeat to an extraordinary opponent.
Special mentions also go to Chinese youngster Li Haotong who couldn’t have done much more than his closing 63 for third place, Matt Southgate for being the best of the Englishmen and Alfie Plant, whose eagle at the 15th on Friday ensured he made the cut and won the silver medal for best amateur.