LWIG — An incredible five-hole stretch at the Open Championship
While I was busy detailing the top 100 golf courses in America, a major championship was being contested across the pond. Thus, I am deviating from a “This Week in Golf” column in favor of a “Last Week in Golf” wrapup. In case you weren’t aware, the Open Championship was played at Royal Birkdale last week.
The Open is the third leg of golf’s major championships and if you are reading this you probably know how it turned out. Another look at the back nine on Sunday in a major is certainly warranted in this case. One golfer was solid, the other was incredible. Let’s take a look back.
Americans Matt Kuchar and Jordan Spieth sprinted to the top of the leaderboard on Day 1 and never looked back. They were paired together Sunday, with Spieth holding a slim lead. On this day “Kooch” was steady though not spectacular, and after the front nine it looked like either could win the Claret Jug as Spieth’s lead vanished.
Jordan Spieth had four bogeys on the front nine. With one birdie he went out in 37 and as is frequently the case, the tournament “begins” on the back nine on Sunday. After recording three straight pars, Spieth went to the 13th tee tied for the lead. That’s when he hit a ball so far to the right that just finding the ball was going to be tough.
It was located and then things got a little crazy. Spieth decided to take an unplayable lie and chose to take the ball back in a straight line from the flag. The rule allows him to go as far back as he wants. He ended up on the driving range which is in play on the Royal Birkdale layout. He had to hit a blind shot over a huge hill, but that was preferable to literally standing on his head to hit it from its original position.
That blind shot ended up short of the par 4 green and he pitched to some six feet. It was there that his incredible five-hole stretch began. The bogey putt was a must, and Spieth drained it. Though he lost the lead when Kuchar made par, he had to feel relieved that he avoided a big number. He was still in it and he knew it.
On the par 3 14th hole, Spieth nearly holed his tee shot. The resulting short putt tied the score and Spieth was off to the races. He calmly holed a 50 foot eagle putt on the 15th. I mean, who drains putts of that length?
Spieth went on to birdie the next two holes to take a commanding lead to the 18th. He calmly parred the final hole and the Claret Jug was his. Matt Kuchar played well, but Spieth was incredible.
Did anyone see this spurt coming? Well, maybe. In 2015 Jordan Spieth won five tournaments including the Masters and the U.S. Open. When he took a commanding lead to the back nine at Augusta last year, everyone assumed the tournament was over. The “wonder kid” was a lock. He then hit two shots in the water on the 12th and faded badly.
Many people wondered if that collapse would haunt him. When he bogeyed four holes on the front side on Sunday, many were wondering if the 2016 Masters fiasco would be repeated. The tee shot on 13 fueled that belief, but then Jordan Spieth went crazy. That five-hole stretch may be the best golf anyone has ever seen in a major.
So now it is left to us to ponder whether Jordan Spieth is once again the best golfer on the planet. First it was Jack, then Tiger, then Rory and (particularly in 2015) then Jordan Spieth as perhaps the best ever. Spieth is young and very talented, but is he going to dominate the game for some time to come?
I don’t think so. People don’t often go five under on a four-hole stretch in any golf tournament, let alone a major. His performance was incredible and he may well do the same thing in the future. Then again he may not.
Golf is an incredibly difficult game. It eventually will humble all who play it. Jordan Spieth may win the PGA Championship, but he will have to battle some great golfers and a game that is unpredictable. I will say this, however:
If he can play golf like he did on the back nine at Royal Birkdale, he will be fun to watch!
Al Stephenson is The A-T golf columnist.
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