While many were saying they’d never seen anything like Jordan Spieth’s epic turnaround in the last six holes to win the British Open, there was an unmistakable sense of deja vu about it.
History seemed to be getting away from Spieth when he launched his drive on the 13th tee into trouble and was forced to take an unplayable lie. As the ensuing ruling dragged on, Matt Kuchar had time to start liking his chances as he was poised to take his first lead.
Spieth, however, scrambled to limit the damage with a clutch five while Kuchar missed his birdie chance. Spieth then stuck it close on the 14th hole to make birdie and followed it with a huge eagle putt on 15 to shift the momentum. Kuchar played the last five holes in 1-under but lost.
If you changed the names in the previous two paragraphs to Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia, you’d have the closing script of the Masters. Rose admitted he started daydreaming a little on the 13th hole and took his foot off the gas just a little while Garcia used the recovery as fuel.
Spieth simply took it to another level at Birkdale, never giving Kuchar a chance to realize what hit him before his conqueror barked “Go get that!” to caddie Michael Greller after his 50-foot eagle dropped.
BIRDIE-EAGLE-BIRDIE-BIRDIE: Jordan Spieth. When everything seemed to be falling apart, I don’t ever recall seeing a sudden gear shift into hyperdrive like that. Well, other than Super Bowl LI.
BIRDIE: Kuchar. Seeing his wife and kids surprise him on the 18th green was gut-wrenching. Long accused of being king of the “backdoor bronze,” Kooch had the front door slammed in his face. He did everything but become the fourth Yellow Jacket to lift the claret jug.
BIRDIE: Branden Grace. Sixty-freaking-two. So what if the conditions were ideal? Grace hit the major magic number when nobody else could. Sorry Johnny Miller.
BOGEY: Dustin Johnson. Flirted with 62 on Saturday to get in the hunt then flopped 47 places with a Sunday-worst 77. No. 1 players shouldn’t do that.
BIRDIE: Haotong Li. Only 21 years old, he went 7-under over the last 11 holes to shoot a once immortal 63, set the early clubhouse mark at 6-under and earned a trip to the Masters with a solo third. Now No. 61, Li may soon be China’s highest ranked golfer in history (Liang Wen-chong reached 57th).
BOGEY: Champion golfers of previous years. Only four past winners of the claret jug made the weekend, and it required some relatively big efforts for each of them to manage that. Twelve Open champs missed the cut.
BIRDIE: Henrik Stenson. Despite his rental home getting burgled and all his clothes (not to mention valuables) taken, the defending champ was unaffected on the course and finished 11th.
BOGEY: Phil Mickelson. Skipping his usual Scottish Open tuneup clearly was a bad idea, as Mickelson missed the cut in his first major start without his familiar caddie.
BIRDIE: Jim “Bones” McKay. Phil’s longtime sidekick made the right employment call, since NBC stuck around for the weekend. He shared a few nice stories amid mostly staid commentary until making the early Saturday declaration “there’s a 62 out there.”
BIRDIE: Rory McIlroy. Looked dead in the water after starting with five bogeys in first six holes. He turned it around to not only make the cut but finish fourth, building much-needed momentum heading to Quail Hollow.
BOGEY: Louis Oosthuizen. His fifth missed cut further proves he’s a one-course pony at the Open with his win (2010) and runner-up (2015) both coming at St. Andrews.
BIRDIE: Zach Johnson. In brutal Friday weather, 2015 champ shot a 66 that may have been more impressive than the 62 Grace shot a sunny day later. That round moved him up 101 spots on the leaderboard.
BOGEY: Justin Thomas. After opening 67 wearing a necktie, he choked away his chances with a second-round 80 including a quintuple 9 to accelerate meltdown.
BIRDIE: Ernie Els. At 48 he’s made only seven cuts all season, but three of them have been in the majors.
BIRDIE: Mark O’Meara. After opening the Open with a disastrous tee shot that led to quad and an 81, the 1998 Birkdale champion said goodbye to the British in style with a walk-off level-par 70 on Friday.
BIRDIE: Kevin Kisner. Was hurtling toward early exit Friday with five quick bogeys before coming home with four birdies in the worst of the wind to become one of only four players to make cut in last seven consecutive majors.
BOGEY: Charles Howell. His first start in any major other than the PGA since 2012 didn’t end well, with his first missed cut in 18 events since October.
BIRDIE: Steve Stricker. At 50 years old, he made his 24th consecutive cut in a major. Think about it.
BOGEY: Bryson DeChambeau. John Deere Classic winner was only four poor souls removed from going first to worst in consecutive weeks.
BIRDIE: Alfie Plant. Reigning European Amateur champion thrilled his English countrymen as the only amateur to make the cut and secure the silver medal.
BOGEY: Tommy Fleetwood. Facing enormous pressure as a hometown favorite, the Southport lad at least rallied from an opening 76 to barely make the cut and finish 27th.
BIRDIE: Matthew Southgate. Young Englishman was ranked 311th in the world before a runner-up finish in Irish Open got him into field. He posted the second lowest weekend score of 67-65 to finish T6 but unfortunately came up one stroke short of earning a Masters invite.
BOGEY: Ian Poulter. “Lousy weekend” finish left him disgusted, but getting into mix rebooted his insufferable swagger. “The large confidence tank that was empty a few months ago is starting to fill up,” he said.
BIRDIE: NBC. You had me at David Feherty: “(Kuchar) could wait until Jordan is asleep, hit him with a 2x4 and he still may not win.”
BIRDIE: PGA Championship. Anticipation for upcoming Charlotte major got a big lift with Spieth trying to complete career slam and former Quail Hollow champion McIlroy showing life to try to stop him.
BIRDIE: Career slams. The next three consecutive majors will feature someone trying to get the last leg needed to join the six-man legends club: PGA (Spieth), Masters (McIlroy) and U.S. Open (Mickelson). Good luck.
BIRDIE: Royal Birkdale. Classic English links showed all its cards in grim and glorious weather that produced highs and record lows, but once again crowned an elite champion.
BIRDIE: Sergio Garcia. The Masters champ didn’t win the claret jug, but so what? He gets married Saturday. ¡Vivan los novios!