Three Of Four
On 30 July 1889, nine gentlemen met at the home of Mr. J C Barrett and decided to create a Club, named the Birkdale Golf Club. In 1922, the members bought the land (they had been renting until then) and re-designed the course. They hired the firm of Hawtree and J H Taylor Ltd, (JH Taylor had won 5 Open Championships before the First World War) who created the splendid links course you see today.
The 146th playing of the Open Championship was hosted by Royal Birkdale for the 10th time.
A horde of players took advantage of perfect conditions on the first day of play, led by the American trio of Brooke Koepka, Jordan Spieth and Matt Kuchar who all shot 5-under par, 65’s.
Day 2 would prove to be a much more difficult test as the winds coming off the Irish Sea wreaked havoc with players’ swings and scores. Underneath ominous charcoal skies and occasional driving rain, wayward shots were punished like naughty children at boarding school. An example of which was new American star, Justin Thomas, who followed his opening salvo of 67 with a disheveled, 80, to miss the cut.
Rory McIlroy was five-over par after his first six holes of his opening round when his longtime caddie, JP Fitzgerald unleashed an expletive laden admonition of the Irish superstar. The dressing down did wonders as McIlroy rallied to play the final 12 holes in 4-under to close with a tournament saving 71. McIlroy followed that up with Friday’s second best score, a 2-under par, 68, that saw him enter the weekend in a tie for 6th at 1-under par.
Kuchar had the best of the weather conditions with a morning tee time on Friday and shot a 71 to be at 4-under at the halfway mark and in second place behind Spieth. Playing late in the afternoon, Spieth was at his scrambling best as he created a masterful 1-under 69, leaving him the leader by two over Kuchar.
Koepka also had the worst of the weather but battled nicely to post a 2-over 70 and be at 3-under, tied for 3rd with resurgent Englishman, Ian Poulter.
What a difference a day makes. The conditions morphed from beastly to beatific on Saturday’s third round and a scoring frenzy ensued.
Shaun Norris, Scott Hend and former world #1, Jason Day had all just made the cut at 5-over par but put themselves into the periphery of contention as they carded 5-under 65’s to be at even par heading into Sunday.
31 players have shot 63 in Major Championship history. South Africa’s Branden Grace became the first golfer in history to shoot a 62 in the Majors with an 8-under par 62. That would move the 29-year old Grace up 43 places into a tie for 5th at 4-under with Hideki Matsuyama.
World #1 Dustin Johnson followed Grace’s ascension with a move of his own firing a 64 to be at 3-under for the Championship. He was joined an hour later by defending Champion, Henrik Stenson, whose 5-under tally was one of 16, 66 and under rounds on the day.
Koepka shot a 68 to be at 5-under and tired with unknown 20-year old Canadian Austin Connelly in a tie for third place.
Matt Kuchar was one of those 16 players with a 66 to be at 8-under but that would be 3 shots behind Spieth whose flawless 65 gave him a commanding advantage as they headed into Sunday’s finale.
Spieth’s three shot cushion would evaporate in the first four holes of Sunday’s final round, as the 23-year old Texan missed short putts on each of those holes to fall to 8-under and tied with Kuchar.
They would remain tied as they stood on the tee box of the 13th hole when Spieth would hit one of the worst tee shots of his career that sailed 100 yards to the right of the fairway and into the deep heather. Spieth was forced to take an unplayable lie and the accompanying one shot penalty and then play a blind hot over the dunes from the driving range. Spieth hit his third shot short of the green and then got up and down for one the best bogies in Open history. When Kuchar made par however, Spieth would lose the lead for the first time since Thursday.
Spieth would then author arguably the best four hole stretch in the annals of the game’s oldest Major, playing them in an unbelievable 5-under par. Under the circumstances, the complete turnaround from ordinary to sublime was magical and most surely the stuff of legend.
A closing par would give Spieth a three shot victory over the gracious Kuchar, who had played so well and would have been the victor over any mortal golfer.
Four days before his 24th birthday, Spieth becomes the youngest player to have won three legs of the Grand Slam needing only the PGA Championship to complete golf’s most elusive quartet. There are so many great young players in the game today, but Spieth has taken his rightful place as their leader.