The 146th playing of The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in Southport, England, was an emotional roller coaster for the ages. From Branden Grace of South Africa shooting the first 62 ever in a major championship, to the weekend battle of Americans Jordan Spieth and Matt Kuchar. It was record breaking, maddening, uplifting and inspirational.
Many will say it was boring, nothing like last year’s Open where Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson battled on the grounds of Royal Troon.
Observers would be correct in saying it was nothing like last year’s duel, but grossly incorrect in saying it was boring.
Round One, on Thursday, brought anticipation and excitement. The day was overcast, breezy and cool as Spieth, U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka and Kuchar all opened with a 5-under par 65, a tough mark to reach for a major championship. Jon Rahm of Spain was in the middle of another rules infraction that he got away with (he walked away from this gaffe from the PGA European Tour at the Irish Open). He was accused of improving his lie by pulling vines away from that would have impeded his swing, which is not allowed in the rulebooks of the United States Golf Association or the R&A, which was governing the tournament. After the investigation by officials, it was deemed he did not intentionally improve his lie, so no penalty was given.
The Second Round on Friday started out wet and cold. The rain subsided, but the chilly temperatures lingered accompanied by wind. Spieth shot 69 to take a two-shot lead into the weekend, a position that he is extremely familiar with.
Big names missed the cut on Friday with the cutline at 5-over par. Some of those big names included past champions Padraig Harrington of Ireland (2007, 2008) and Northern Irishman Darren Clarke (2011). Popular names on Tour such as Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson and Billy Horschel all missed out on the weekend at the season’s third major.
Saturday was a Moving Day for the ages. Grace fired what now stands as the lowest round in major championship history, after many close calls with players shooting 63, which tied the record, Grace finally broke through with 62. Grace also broke a 34-year record set by Johnny Miller at the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont. The most ironic aspect about this situation is that Miller was on the call for NBC watching from the broadcast tower on the 18th green. Spieth and Kuchar shot 65 and 66, respectively, in the sunshine and the duo looked to run away from the field.
Then Sunday happened…
Sunday at the Open electrifies golf fans all over the world, the 146th edition lived up to past glory. Former top-ranked Rory McIlroy, made a charge towards the leaders, but it proved to be too little, too late. McIlroy finished at 5-under par tied for fourth.
Spieth and Kuchar teed off in the final game (pairings are called games in Europe) Spieth’s nerves got the best of him as he hit a less-than-stellar tee shot into the fescue on the left side of the fairway. He appeared rattled and lost his lead as he shot a 3-over par 37 to fall into a tie with playing partner Kuchar.
Many American fans were torn as they wanted to see “Kuch” win his first major, but they also wanted to see Spieth earn the next step to the career Grand Slam, often noted as the “Spieth Slam.”
Kuchar seemed destined to win his first major, he was tied with Spieth heading to the inward nine and Spieth was falling apart. Kuchar finished the day with a 1-under par 69. And 9-under par for the Championship. He left a lot of shots out there, if he made more putts, this would be a much different story. It would end with him holding the Claret Jug, not Spieth.
The falling apart for Spieth seemed to peak on the 13th hole. He rocketed his tee shot into the fescue, much like his opening tee shot of the day. He had to take an unplayable lie, and that left him with a couple of options. He could: Re-tee, which seemed to be the most practical option. Take relief with two club lengths, no closer to the hole, that was out because that would have left him in the weeds. Drop on the line from where his ball lay to the flagstick. Spieth being Spieth, he went with the most complicated option. He took his ball all the way back to the driving range tee, which was not out of bounds. This was absolutely not a knock on Spieth, the 25-minute ordeal worked in his favor, he used the Rules of Golf to his advantage, anyone that smart deserves to win in my opinion.
Spieth used the spark from that moment and rattled off the greatest closing stretch of holes I have ever seen in a major. He almost made a hole-in-one on the par-3 14th. He seemed to have the tournament won when he made an outrageous 48-foot roller coaster putt for eagle on the par-5 15th. He continued with birdies on 16, 17 and 18 to close out 5-under par in the final four holes.
Spieth ended the tournament with 12-under par 268, took home the Claret Jug, and was named the Champion Golfer of The Year.
This year’s Open was back and forth, much like last year with Mickelson and Stenson dueling. Just this time, it was over the whole weekend, and the drama was turned in a negative direction as Spieth was falling apart. The mood returned to electric as he brought himself back and took care of business to win his third major.
A win at the PGA Championship starting Aug. 10 at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina, would give Spieth the career Grand Slam.