Jordan Spieth turned potential major meltdown into one of the most extraordinary victories in Open Championship history at Royal Birkdale.
Three shots clear of fellow American Matt Kuchar heading into the final round, Spieth bogeyed three of the first four holes at the famous Lancashire links to see his overnight advantage wiped out within the first hour.
And the 23-year-old Texan then dropped out of the lead for the first time in two days with a bogey on the 13th, which involved a controversial 20-minute ruling, which saw him playing his third shot from the practice ground, in a scene almost reminiscent of Seve Ballesteros’s escape from the car park at Lytham in 1979. It ended up costing Spieth just a single shot, and seemed to spur him into action.
He almost holed his tee shot to the par-three 14th to set up a tap-in birdie, before holing from 45 feet for eagle on the par-five 15th. A shell-shocked Kuchar made a birdie there to fall just one behind, only for Spieth to hole from long range for birdie on the 16th, and follow the former in for another on the par-five 17th.
Par at the last completed a remarkable closing 69 – Spieth’s fourth sub-70 round of the week – and a 12 under par total of 268, three shots ahead of Kuchar, who also shot 69 after bogeying the 18th.
Victory means Spieth joins Jack Nicklaus in becoming one of just two players to win three majors before the age of 24, and he can surpass Tiger Woods as the youngest winner of a career grand slam by claiming next month’s US PGA at Quail Hollow. He is also the youngest Open champion since a 22-year-old Ballesteros won the first of his three titles in 1979.
After picking up the Claret Jug, Spieth, said: “This is absolutely a dream come true. I drank some wine from the Claret Jug when Zach Johnson won it two years ago, and people said that was bad luck. I started to believe them too, after nine holes today. I think 17 pars and a birdie would have been perhaps an easier way to score 69, but there are many roads to get there, and I’m just glad that I got there somehow.”
He added: “There was period out there that the wheels were in danger or really coming off, and I’m proud of myself, and my caddy, Michael, that we were able to get back on track and give myself a chance at the end. At one point those two- and three-foot putts felt for 30-footers, and then on the back nine it switched around, and the 30-footers felt like two-footers. Today took as much out of me as any day that I’ve ever played golf.”
Kuchar had the consolation of his best finish in 47 major appearances, with China’s Li Haotong three shots further back in third after equalling the lowest final round in major history with a closing 63.
Rory McIlroy, blowing hot and cold throughout the tournament, finished in a tie for fourth on five under, with Scottish Open winner Rafa Cabrera Bello, while England’s Matthew Southgate finished a stroke further back alongside US Open Brooks Koepka, Branden Grace – who fired a major low round of record 62 on Saturday – Alex Noren and Marc Leishman.
Defending champion Henrik Stenson finished in a group of three players on three under par, including Paul Casey, while Ian Poulter, who was vying the lead midway through round two, finished tied 14th on two under, alongside fellow Englishman Chris Wood, who won the silver medal as the lowest scoring amateur back in 2008 at Birkdale.
That honour for this year went to Alfie Plant from Kent, who shot rounds of 71, 73, 69 and 73 to finish tied 62nd on six over par. The 20-year-old from Sundridge Park, who qualified for The Open after winning the European Amateur at Walton Heath last month, now looks a strong candidate for next month’s Walker Cup, after which he plans to turning professional at the end of the season.
A record-breaking crowd of 235,000 attended the championship over the week, a record for any Open staged outside of St Andrews. This year’s attendance surpassed the 230,000 mark set at Royal Liverpool in 2006, making it the largest ever championship held in England. Over 30,000 fans under the age of 25 attended – 13% of the total crowd – of which half were aged under 16, who attended free of charge with a paying adult.