Jordan Spieth has just won his third different major title four days before his 24th birthday, the kind of accomplishment that once again puts him in elite company. He keeps hobnobbing with the swells of the game, pretty soon we’re going to start believing he might actually belong with them.
The British Open part of his program wasn’t always pretty, but it was absolutely compelling. There is no golfer working today who, because of the volatility of his play, is more watchable. No player more capable of turning a pedestrian game into a thrill ride.
Sunday, Spieth seemed to lose it – his lead, the tournament, his mind, everything – on the 13th hole after taking an unplayable from an overgrown English hillside. He ended up hitting one from the equipment trailers and taking a bogey after nearly 30 minutes of adventures in surveying and crowd control. So disturbed was Spieth that he almost aced the next hole, then canned a serpentine 40-foot putt for eagle on No. 15. Then made another long birdie putt on 16. Game over.
Only Jack Nicklaus won three legs of the career Grand Slam before turning 24. For the most part of his young career when comparison became necessary, Spieth had been sharing the same sentence with Tiger Woods. In this case, he just upgraded.
To add a claret jug to his collection, Spieth overcame bogeys on three of his first four holes Sunday at Royal Birkdale. He overcame an uncommon bout of early doubtful putting at Royal Birkdale. Overcame the half-hour situation comedy that was the 13th hole. And, then, nearly 4,000 miles from Rae’s Creek, he shed the last demon from his 2016 Masters meltdown and got back to the business of authoring history. As human as he was in Augusta then, Spieth was equally mythic over the final holes in Southport, England. That’s a spellbinding combination.
To win the British, he also had to join the list of those who have kept Matt Kuchar from his first major.
Beginning the day three shots back of Spieth, Kuchar played perfectly composed and controlled golf, the kind of golf that could win the day at a major championship. At least any major championship in which Jordan Spieth doesn’t turn the place into a theater of the absurd. Kuchar shot 69, held the lead momentarily after Spieth’s tribulations on 13, and then got swept away when his playing partner flipped a switch that only the most special players possess.
This really may have been the 39-year-old Kuchar’s best chance at breaking through in a major way. Considering where he is in his career and where he physically was this week, the omens lined up in his favor. As a one-time Yellow Jacket, Kuchar was in his element.
The British Open and the Georgia Tech golfer has had a special relationship. It has been the major of last resort for many of them. And a life-shaping major for all those Jackets who have won abroad.
It began, as most golf stories do, with Bobby Jones. Before he won two British Opens, Jones had to be sufficiently humbled over there. At the 1921 British Open, at the height of his tempestuous stage, Jones became so frustrated with his game 10-plus holes into his third round that he just picked up his ball and went home.
He would get over it. Even golfing saints require a little polishing. He would return as the composed, devoted amateur, the great symbol of sportsmanship and a golden age of sport. A slew of titles followed, including British Open wins in 1926 and ’30.
Two other Georgia Tech men have claimed their sole major championship on the British Isles.
First, it was David Duval, at his most inscrutable, all poker-faced behind his wrap-around sunglasses winning at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 2001 by a comfortable three strokes. It was about time for a player who reached the top of the world rankings, having contended and fell short at a handful of Masters and U.S. Opens.
Eight years later, enter Stewart Cink, whose victory at Turnberry was popular only within the confines of the greater Duluth area. For it was 59-year-old Tom Watson that Cink overwhelmed in a four-hole playoff, every sentiment on the old fellow’s side.
The 2017 British Open was temptingly close to belonging to another son of Tech. Until he got in the way of the Spieth Show.
A last, best chance for Kuchar? Very possibly. Time is tilting away from him.
For Spieth, there are years more of this kind of ridiculous golf. Years more for him to compile a career to which others will be compared.