Jordan Spieth survives amazing meltdown to win The Open
American throws away a three shot lead but regains control to claim the Claret Jug at Royal Birkdale
Jordan Spieth won The Open at Royal Birkdale by three shots after an extraordinary day's golf on the Southport links.
Going into the final round of the tournament, the 23-year-old American led compatriot Matt Kuchar by three. But it was soon clear the world number three was edgy and erratic and by the turn he had blown his lead on the back of three bogeys on the opening four holes.
Level with 39-year-old Kuchar going into the back nine, Spieth then dropped a shot on the 13th when his drive disappeared into the ether, eventually coming to rest 120 yards to the right of the fairway. Taking 20 minutes to weigh up his options, assisted by officials of the R&A who enlightened the American on the rules, Spieth finally decided to take a penalty drop and he carded a bogey five to hand the lead to Kuchar.
But the drama only made Spieth more determined to get his hands on the famous Open claret jug, and on the 14th he came within a whisker of a hole in one on the short par-three. Nonetheless the birdie brought him back level with Kuchar and he then edged in front on the 15th with a remarkable 35ft putt. That eagle was followed by a birdie on the 16th and on the 17th, and although Kuchar also carded a couple of birdies he couldn't find the golf to taste glory as Spieth finished with a one-under 69.
Li Haotong of China carded a superb 63 to climb to third place on four under with Rory McIlroy and Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello tied for fourth one shot behind.
Spieth, who turns 24 on Thursday, is the youngest Open winner since 22-year-old Seve Ballesteros claimed the title in 1979, and with already the Masters and US Open crowns to his name, the Texan is the second player after Jack Nicklaus to win three of golf's four majors before turning 24.
"This is absolutely a dream come true," said Spieth. "I drank some wine from the Claret Jug when Zach Johnson won it two years ago and people said that was bad luck. I started to believe them too after nine holes today."
Asked what happened on the 13th tee, and how he managed to escape with a bogey after such a shocking drive, the American said: "I didn't want it to go left, so I opened up the face and a little bit of water got in and I hit a spray ball...I don't know how I made five there, but that putt right there was as tough as any today to read and when that went in I felt like I had got away with murder."
Spieth's caddie, Michael Greller, described the nightmare on the 13th, as "the most bizarre thing I've ever experienced as a caddie....[but] it was on a great line and from there he just did what he always does - he just grinds."
Greller will earn around £70,000 for his part in Spieth's success, while the man himself banks a cool £1,419,777 for becoming the 2017 Open Champion. As for Matt Kuchar, who at 39 is still searching for his first major after nearly two decades on the circuit, he admitted it was tough to be so close and yet so far from glory: "It's a lifelong quest to get to this point and have a chance," he said. "To get a taste of it is sweet but hard at the same time."
Jordan Spieth poised for Open glory with three shot lead
South African Branden Grace carded the lowest round ever at a men's Major on day three of The Open, but it was Jordan Spieth who took control at Royal Birkdale, extending his lead to three shots over his nearest rival Matt Kuchar.
Spieth is 11 under going into the final round and the chances of anyone other than Kuchar catching him appear remote. The next nearest challengers are Austin Connelly and Brooks Koepka who are six shots behind the young American with Hideki Matsuyama and the record-breaking Grace another shot back.
Spieth is on the verge of becoming only the second golfer to win three Majors before the age of 24, says James Corrigan of the Daily Telegraph.
"Tiger Woods did not manage it, but Jack Nicklaus did," he says. "That is the calibre of legend against which Spieth is vying. And on a day when this rain-soaked, gust-free links has never seemed so compliant, the young Texan managed to accomplish that most difficult of tasks for a front-runner and increase the advantage while everyone else is furiously sprinting in behind."
Spieth landed a huge blow on the final hole of the day as he birdied the 18th to restore a three-shot lead after he and Kuchar engaged in a "private and pivotal American battle" around the Birkdale links, says Nick Pitt of The Times.
The late blow could be critical, he says. "Some of the rest will still entertain the hope that Spieth may self-destruct, as he did when he had command of the 2016 US Masters until he threw away a pile of strokes, but it appears unlikely."
Ewan Murray of The Guardian says that collapse does provide a "fascinating and potentially negative back-story for Spieth", who has not won a major since then.
While Spieth was extending his lead it was Grace who was the centre of attention, as he became the first man to ever card a round of 62 in 157 years of Major golf.
Some may quibble that he achieved the feat on a par 70 course, and that his round of eight under does not compare with the various rounds of nine under recorded at longer courses over the years, but the South African still posted a new mark.
"A course that was virtually unplayable in the wind and rain of Friday afternoon was made to look like a pitch-and-putt in the local park by Branden Grace," says Andrew Longmore of The Times.
The Open: Spieth leads by two shots after second round
Jordan Spieth is in pole position after the first two rounds of The Open at Royal Birkdale thanks to a round of 69 in testing conditions on Merseyside that put him clear of the field on six under, two shots ahead of Matt Kuchar.
The American teed off in mid-afternoon, when the weather had been expected to be at its worst, but played some excellent golf to post a second successive round below par, despite four bogeys.
"Ominously it is the the third time he has opened a major with two rounds in the 60s, he won the Masters and US Open on the other two occasions," says the BBC.
Behind Spieth and fellow Americans Kuchar are Brooks Koepka, the US Open champion, and Ian Poulter on three under.
Earlier Rory McIlroy continued his charge up the leaderboard, finishing with a round of 68, bettered only by Zach Johnson. McIlroy, who seemed done for after the first nine holes on Thursday is in the mix at one below par.
Only 11 players finished the second day below par on a wet and windy day on the Lancashire links.
Among those to falter was world number two Hideki Matsuyama who went from three under to even on the final holes. Home favourite Tommy Fleetwood had a better day and made the cut with a second round of 69.
With calmer weather expected on Saturday, if not Sunday, there is plenty of scope for one of the chasing pack to make a move over the weekend. But Spieth appears to be the man to catch.
The Open: US golfers out in front as the weather turns nasty
America dominated the opening day of The Open at Royal Birkdale with Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka and Matt Kuchar leading the field on five under par after all shooting 65.
A shot behind that trio are Paul Casey of England and Charl Schwartzel, with veteran Ian Poulter a further shot back after he rolled back the years on the Southport links.
But perhaps the most curious round came from Rory McIlroy. The 2014 Open champion did little other than roll his putts wide in a nightmare start to his round. The Northern Irishman was five over after six holes but he rallied in the back nine, shooting four birdies to keep himself in contention of making the cut with a round of one over.
McIlroy has missed the cut in his last three tournaments but he was in bullish mood at the end of day one. "With the weather we're expecting I still feel I'm in the golf tournament," he said. "If I can go out and play a good quality round of golf in the morning in bad conditions and shoot something in the 60s and try to get in the clubhouse somewhere around even par, under par, I feel like I'll be right there for the weekend."
McIlroy is an early starter this morning and although the forecast is for blustery rain, the conditions are expected to deteriorate significantly in the afternoon and could play an important factor in deciding who makes the cut.
Kuchar is another who tees off in the morning but Spieth and US Open champion Brooks Koepka both start their rounds in the mid-afternoon and will be tested far more than on Thursday.
"I couldn't have done much better today," said Spieth, who might actually have finished the day in front had he holed a putt for birdie at 18. Nonetheless the Texan, who won the Masters and the US Open in 2015, was delighted with the way the day had gone.
"Everything was strong," said Spieth. "I thought I'd give it a nine across the board for everything – tee balls, ball-striking, short game and putting. So things are in check. It's just about keeping it consistent."
Among Spieth's competitors who will be hoping to overhaul him today are reigning Open champion Henrik Stenson, who carded a one-under 69, and veteran Ernie Els, who finished three shots off the lead, as did the Scottish pair of Martin Laird and Richie Ramsey.
One shot behind them is Andrew ‘Beef' Johnston, golf's new cult hero, and the Englishman tees off first this morning in what might prove a stroke of good fortune if the meteorologists have it right. Asked to rate his opening round, Johnston replied: "I would say about six or seven. I haven't played great. Just the last six weeks I have started to play nice. I have been grinding away really hard and hopefully over the last month I have turned a corner."
The Open: Mark O'Meara's nightmare start at Royal Birkdale
American Mark O'Meara claimed the Claret Jug after beating Brian Watts in a play-off when The Open was held at Royal Birkdale in 1998.
The chances of him repeating that triumph this year look slim after a nightmare start to the tournament.
The 60-year-old veteran "was given the honour of getting the 146th Open Championship underway in breezy and generally grim conditions", says Sky Sports.
But after stepping up to the tee, O'Meara sliced the very first shot out of bounds.
"It didn't get much better from there, either," adds Sky. "O'Meara ended up making a quadruple bogey after finding the bunker and then three putting the green."
"My day was toast and most people still hadn’t had their breakfast," said the player.
The conditions did not help. "In fairness to the 60-year-old, it was a grimly foreboding scene at 6.30am," says the Daily Telegraph. "The rain was hammering down and there were 20mph gusts. Yet a big crowd had gathered and the cold morning air rippled with anticipation when O'Meara stepped up."
What unfolded next led to "embarrassed gasps" from the crowd and left O'Meara's playing partner Chris Wood unsure where to look, says the paper.
Could it be a hint that a trying weekend lies in store? "Players had enjoyed dry and sunny conditions on the Southport links until a thunderstorm blew in late Wednesday afternoon and forced the abandonment of practice," reports the London Evening Standard.
Thursday's rainy conditions only added to the tension on the first tee. Birkdale's opening hole is renowned as the toughest on The Open rota and the first 24 players registered a combined score of 23 over for the 448-yarder, it adds.
The Open 2016: Relive the 'greatest' final round
Henrik Stenson's extraordinary Open triumph at Royal Troon last year was hailed as one of the great major performances of recent years.
The Swede saw off the challenge of Phil Mickelson on the final round and finished 20 under par, three shots ahead of the American and an incredible 14 shots in front of JB Holmes in third place.
Stenson's total score of 264 was the lowest in Open history and it was the first time anyone has finished so far below par at the Open.
He and Mickelson were on a different plane to the rest of the field as they accompanied each other on the final round. "It was like they were playing a different sport on a different course," says James Corrigan of the Daily Telegraph.
But it was Stenson who had the edge, shooting an eight under 63 on the final day. "He was not so much hot as thermonuclear in this closing round for the ages," says Oliver Brown of the Telegraph. "This was, almost beyond argument, the greatest final round ever produced at a major.
"There is little, if anything, to stand alongside the show that Stenson, with Phil Mickelson as perhaps golf's most over-achieving understudy, put on in the Ayrshire gloom.
"It was an object lesson in the escalating effect the best battles can have," he adds, likening the pair's performance to the legendary 2008 Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal.
He, and other commentators, also likened it to the 1977 duel between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus at Turnberry.
It was a "face-off that will go down in Open history, golf folklore", says Paul Weaver of The Guardian.
"This was an epic, gladiatorial confrontation, and it felt like a matchplay monster more than a strokeplay tournament. The rest of the field struggled to keep up then, appropriately, left the stage clear for the main event."
And he adds: "Only in golf, surely, can you witness the climax of a great sporting event contested by a 46-year-old and a 40-year-old."
And while it was the 40-year-old Stenson who ended up with the Claret Jug "bizarrely, it was Phil Mickelson, the old black-clad lefty, who dominated our attention", says Weaver.
The fact that the American could finish with a round of 65 and finish second "beggared belief", says Rick Broadbent of The Times.
"Spare a thought for Phil Mickelson," he adds. "Having bemoaned the golfing gods, he was beaten by a man playing shots from a higher plane."
Corrigan of the Telegraph agrees. "It is hard to remember any golfer who has played so brilliantly in defeat," he says.
The Open: Colin Montgomerie and Sky Sports ready to tee off
It's not just the world's best golfers who will be under scrutiny during the Open at Royal Troon this week, Sky Sports will also be under the spotlight after taking over the live coverage from the BBC a year ahead of schedule.
The broadcaster has devoted an entire channel to the tournament, which begins at 6.35am on Thursday, when Colin Montgomerie tees off. Sky Sports 1HD will show the first day's action for free online and via Now TV.
"The decision by governing body the R&A to award the rights to the Open to Sky ended 60 years of live coverage of the tournament on the BBC, placing it behind a paywall for the first time," says the Daily Telegraph.
But Sky Sports is intent on making sure it covers the tournament fully and has achieved something of a PR coup by making the first day free.
"With the BBC having never shown the opening tee shot of the Open live... Sky will not only be the first UK broadcaster to do so but will be the first to do so free of charge," adds the Telegraph.
The switch, which was due to happen in 2017 but was brought forward a year due to cuts at the BBC, caused huge controversy when it was announced last year.
Lee Westwood said it was a "disgrace" the tournament was not on free-to-air TV while BBC commentator Peter Alliss said he was "embarrassed".
"Not surprisingly, given the momentousness of the occasion, there is a palpable air of nervousness and excitement among Sky's 120-strong team, who are bracing themselves not only for a series of 2.30am alarm calls but also the public reaction," reports Derek Lawrenson of the Daily Mail.
But, he adds, "if truth be told, Sky won over golf devotees years ago", claiming that Sky's devotion to the cause makes the coverage better.
"Is it the Beeb’s little joke, for example, to be showing a programme called Right On The Money on Thursday at 9am when their Open coverage would have traditionally started?
"By 9am on Thursday, Sky will have already been live on air for the best part of three hours."