Jordan Spieth was a day late and a shot short. The Masters and US Open champion was playing against a crowded leaderboard and history. Out of the former, only the three play-off participants could better him.
But history was an even more formidable opponent for the young American. It was in 1960 that Arnold Palmer won the first two majors of the year and decided to cross the Atlantic for a tilt at the Claret Jug. In Palmer’s mind, the modern equivalent of Bobby Jones’s amateur Grand Slam of 1930 was to win the Masters, the US Open, The Open and the PGA Championship back in the States.
After a weather delay, with the Old Course flooded before the final round, the championship went over into an extra day and Palmer wound up losing by one stroke to an Australian, the late Kel Nagle, who died earlier this year.
Back in St Andrews 55 years later and Spieth was here on an additional Monday when all his extraordinary putting talent, epitomised by his monster hole-out on the 16th green, came up just short again. All season the 21-year-old has been linking himself with the greats of the game with his successes and he did so again here.
Like Palmer, Jack Nicklaus lost out to Lee Trevino by one stroke in 1972 when the Bear attempted to win the first three majors of the year, while in 2002 at Muirfield Tiger Woods’s similar quest was derailed by a freak storm in the third round. Woods, the only player to hold all four major titles at the same time, won three in a row in 2000, but not the Masters. In 1953 Ben Hogan, Spieth’s great Texan predecessor, won the only three majors he played in, including The Open at Carnoustie.
Starting the day one behind the overnight leaders, Spieth birdied three of the first six holes but then had a brain fail at the eighth, taking four putts for a double bogey. His long approach putt raced past the hole and off the green.
Never write him off, however. Extra pressure, the chance to make history, only fires him up. He recovered those two shots at the next two holes and then late in the day he birdied the 16th with the sort of magical wielding of the putter that suggested destiny might still be on his side.
But Spieth could not hole the par-effort on the 17th, Nagle made all those years ago. Nor could he match Costantino Rocca’s dramatics from the Valley of Sin from 20 years ago.
For all the talk of his lack of knowledge of the Old Course, and lack of preparation after winning a tournament in America the previous week, it was his drive at the 18th that cost Spieth a chance of making the play-off. “It’s kind of hard not to hit a good one there,” he admitted. The angle for his approach made getting close risky. He spun off the front and his putt up the slope stayed persistently left.
“I’ve watched Opens at St Andrews and that putt is straight, it won’t break back to the right,” he said. “It was a good putt with the right speed, which is all I could ask after the second shot.
“Who would have thought a drive on 18 was what really hurt me in the end? But it was my speed control with my putting that really cost me this week, those five three-putts in the second round. It was a mental mistake on No 8 but I made a lot of right decisions down the stretch and I’m not going to beat myself up.”
Spieth’s playing partner Jason Day had a better chance at the last to make the playoff but left his birdie putt just short. It was right on line and he buried his head in his hands. “It was a good putt but it was just a little slower down the hill than I thought,” said the Australian.
For the second day running Day went bogey-free and given his attack of vertigo at the US Open it was another brave effort from the 27-year-old. “It was so close – in my hands and I’ve been working so hard to get my first major so it’s a little frustrating how it finished. I really want my shot at immortality. It’ll soon come my way. I’ve just got to be patient.”
His compatriot Adam Scott is still seeking revenge after bogeying the last four holes at Royal Lytham three years ago and was tied for the lead before disaster struck again. He dropped five shots in the last five holes, including missing a one-footer on the 15th. “To miss a really short putt on 15, I don’t really have an explanation for that,” he said. “I went up to tap it in from a foot and it lipped out. Just one of those stupid things that happens and really put me in a tough position. I didn’t execute over the last five holes.”
For all those whose dreams were denied yesterday, there is the eternal example of Phil Mickelson. It took the left-handed American 19 attempts to win The Open, two years ago at Muirfield, but there have been many more calamities. Yesterday, Mickelson was six under for the day when he came to the beastly 17th and promptly hooked his drive on to the balcony of room 130 of the Old Course Hotel.
It cost him a triple bogey but only Mickelson could find a ray of sunshine on a dreek day. “The good news for me is that I stood up there and trusted my swing,” Mickelson said of the outward-bounded drive. “I hit a good, solid shot, it just over-drew a little bit.”
Take it from a 45-year-old golfer: always look for the silver lining. Spieth has learnt that lesson young. “I’m pleased with the way I played this week and the way we battled,” he said. “There was some clutch playing by the guys and it took some special golf to win. It’s been a hell of a major.
“Three majors in a row, that’s my next goal as far as history goes. Sights set for the PGA Championship but I’ve got two weeks off now to reflect. It won’t hurt too bad.”Reuse content