The Open: Jordan Spieth rallies to hold off Matt Kuchar in Birkdale thriller
By Keith Jackson at Royal Birkdale
Last Updated: 24/07/17 6:40am
Jordan Spieth staged a sensational back-nine recovery to clinch a three-shot victory as The 146th Open was treated to another thrilling final-day duel at Royal Birkdale.
A year on from Henrik Stenson outlasting Phil Mickelson in a record-breaking duel at Royal Troon, Spieth and Matt Kuchar did not match the quality of that encounter but that did not make the 2017 edition any less dramatic.
Spieth prompted memories of his Masters meltdown last year when, after starting his round with a three-shot lead over his fellow American, bogeyed three of the first four holes and found himself trailing by one after a remarkable bogey at the 13th, where he was forced to take a penalty drop on the driving range after a woeful drive.
But he stormed back into the lead as he picked up five shots over the next four holes, and Kuchar was unable to match the brilliance of Spieth as his par at the last secured his third major title, making him only the second player after Jack Nicklaus to win three different majors by the age of 24.
Spieth's overnight advantage was wiped out after only four holes as he bogeyed the opener after pulling his tee shot into a poor lie in the rough, hacked his second wide of the green and failed to get up and down - his first dropped shot for 21 holes.
He parred the second as Kuchar closed the gap to one with a stunning second to tap-in range, and both bogeyed the third before Spieth needed three putts to get down at the short fourth to bring the pair level on eight under.
Spieth bounced back with a pure iron to six feet at the next, and found himself two clear again when Kuchar bogeyed the tough sixth as Spieth scrambled a valuable par.
The Ryder Cup team-mates traded pars at the next two, but they were tied at the turn when Kuchar rolled in a cool putt from 10 feet for birdie before Spieth, taking an age over his putts, missed from inside three feet for par.
After two pars at the 10th, Spieth made a sublime up-and-down at 11 after tugging his second and sending the crowd scattering, while Kuchar's long putt for birdie hung on the lip.
Both parred 12, but the drama ramped up at the 13th when Spieth carved his drive way right and into deep trouble on the wrong side of a huge mound and, as he weighed up his options, Kuchar hit a stunning second from the wispy rough to 12 feet.
A mixture of carnage and comedy ensued as Spieth opted to take an unplayable lie and, after lengthy consultations with rules officials, took his drop in the practice range near the Sky Sports Open Zone before slamming his third short right of the green.
But he pitched to eight feet and rolled in the putt for bogey after Kuchar's birdie putt was a fraction too far to the left, and Spieth showed his champion quality with a remarkable resurgence in form and confidence over the next three holes.
His well-struck iron from the 14th tee came within an inch of hitting the pin as he birdied from six feet, and he regained the outright lead with an astonishing 40-foot putt for eagle at the next - only the second three of the round on the par-five.
Kuchar held his composure together to make birdie and make sure he was only one back with three to play, but the deficit was back to two at the 16th as Spieth's restored trust in his putting stroke resulted in another huge putt, this time from 30 feet, dropping in the cup dead-weight and lifting him back to where he started the round - 11 under.
And he was not finished there! Both were unable to get near the 17th green in two as they found themselves on opposite sides of the fairway but, after Kuchar piled on the pressure by holing from 12 feet for birdie, Spieth followed him in from half the distance.
Spieth got his tee shot safely away down the 72nd fairway and found the front of the putting surface in two as he effectively made sure of victory which meant he could enjoy the adulation of the packed grandstands as he strode proudly to the green, and he duly made his par after Kuchar bogeyed, with a winning score of 12-under par.
The erratic first nine from the two leaders almost presented an unlikely chance for Open debutant Li Haotong, who raced up the leaderboard as he cruised to the turn in 32, picked up his third shot of the day at the 12th, and then birdied each of the last four holes to post a sparkling 63 which was 24 hours too late to tie the major record for low round.
As for Rory McIlroy, he was left to rue what might have been as he posted his best round of the week despite another uncertain start as he scrambled pars at two of first three holes, and he broke a run of eight pars when he finally got a putt to drop for birdie at the ninth.
He parred the next three, but he pulled his drive into thick rough at 15 and could not avoid a bogey-six, although he did revive his slim hopes of sneaking into a possible play-off as he hit a superb second to 12 feet at 17 and rolled in the putt for eagle to get to five under.
But he blocked his drive right from the final tee and, after gouging his second into a greenside bunker, he was unable to make the birdie he needed to join Li on six under as he signed for a 67.
McIlroy was joined on five under by Rafa Cabrera Bello, who also struggled to make much happen on the first tee as he posted a 68, while Matthew Southgate stormed home in 32 with three birdies in four holes from the 14th to close on four under alongside Marc Leishman, who also returned a 65.
Alex Noren (67), third-round history-maker Branden Grace (70) and Brooks Koepka (71) also shared sixth place, with defending champion Stenson closing with a 70 to finish on three under with Paul Casey and 2015 champion Zach Johnson.