SOUTHPORT, England (AP) — Jordan Spieth is the British Open champion, just like expected, though not like anyone could have imagined.
On the verge of another meltdown in a major, so wild off the tee that he played one shot from the driving range at Royal Birkdale and lost the lead for the first time all weekend, Spieth bounced back with a collection of clutch shots, delivering a rally that ranks among the best.
A near ace. A 50-foot eagle putt . A 30-foot birdie putt.
Spieth played the final five holes in 5 under and closed with a 1-under 69 for a three-shot victory over Matt Kuchar, giving him the third leg of the career Grand Slam and a chance to be the youngest to win them all next month at the PGA Championship.
Spieth joined Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win three different majors at age 23, and even the Golden Bear was impressed.
“Is Jordan Spieth something else?” Nicklaus tweeted during a wild back nine.
Spieth missed four putts inside 8 feet on the front nine and lost his three-shot lead. Then, he looked certain to lose the British Open — and the reputation he craves as a reliable closer — when his tee shot on the par-4 13th was some 75 yards right of the fairway, buried in grass on a dune so steep he could barely stand up.
He took a penalty shot for an unplayable lie, and when he realized the practice range was in play, headed back on a line so far that he was behind the equipment trucks. He still had a blind shot with a 3-iron over the dunes to a fairway littered with pot bunkers, stopping just short of one of them near the green.
Kuchar, who had to wait 20 minutes for Spieth to get his situation sorted, missed his 15-foot birdie putt. Spieth pitched over the bunker to 7 feet and made the putt to escape with bogey, falling behind for the first time.
And that’s when the show began.
Spieth hit a 6-iron that plopped down in front of the pin at the par-3 14th and came within inches of a hole-in-one. He rolled in a 4-foot birdie putt and tied Kuchar. Given new life, he holed a 50-foot eagle putt and turned to caddie Michael Greller and said, “Go get that!”
Emotions rolling, Spieth followed with a 30-foot birdie at the 16th and was ahead by two. And after Kuchar holed a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-5 17th, Spieth assured himself a two-shot margin up the final hole by pouring in yet another birdie.
From the driving range to the claret jug, Spieth put himself in hallowed territory just days before his 24th birthday. Nicklaus was about six months younger than Spieth when he won the 1963 PGA Championship for the third leg of the Grand Slam.
Spieth goes to Quail Hollow in North Carolina next month with a chance to get that final portion of the Grand Slam.
Kuchar closed with a 69 and did nothing wrong. He just had no answers for Spieth’s final blitz. Kuchar had a one-shot lead leaving the 13th green. He played the next four holes with two pars and two birdies and was two shots behind.
Li Haotong of China shot a 63 and finished third.
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