Jordan Spieth is the youngest winner of the British Open since Seve Ballesteros won in 1979. (AP: Peter Morrison)
Jordan Spieth has survived a roller-coaster final round at the British Open to claim his third major title after beating fellow American Matt Kuchar by three strokes in a thrilling duel at Royal Birkdale.
Spieth carded a 1-under-par final round of 69 to finish on 12-under for the tournament but, after three days of consistent golf by the American, it was a remarkable day of highs and lows for the 23-year-old.
The Texan, who won the US Masters and US Open in 2015, joined Jack Nicklaus to become one of only two players to win three legs of the career grand slam before turning 24. Tiger Woods was 24 when he won his third different major.
Spieth began the day with a three-stroke lead but saw that evaporate on the front nine, where he made four bogeys and a birdie to enter the turn sharing the lead with Kuchar on 8-under, before he steadied himself and surged to victory.
Clutching the Claret Jug awarded to the winner, Spieth, the youngest American to win the British Open and the youngest from any country since a 22-year-old Seve Ballesteros in 1979, said his victory was “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,” he said.
“I’m going to take this back to America which may upset a few of you all but I’ll return it. Thank you very much, what an incredible honour.”
Real drama follows on back nine
After his struggles on the front nine, the real drama began when Spieth drove wildly into the dunes on the 13th hole.
British Open leaderboard
|1||Jordan Spieth (USA)||-12|
|2||Matt Kuchar (USA)||-9|
|3||Haotong Li (CHN)||-6|
|T4||Rory McIlroy (NIR)||-5|
|T4||Rafael Cabrera-Bello (ESP)||-5|
|T6||Marc Leishman (AUS)||-4|
|T6||Matthew Southgate (ENG)||-4|
|T6||Alex Noren (SWE)||-4|
|T6||Branden Grace (RSA)||-4|
|T6||Brooks Koepka (USA)||-4|
He was forced to take a penalty stroke after deeming the ball unplayable and after some confusion and a lengthy series of deliberations, he played his second shot from the edge of the practice range next to the television trucks.
Spieth scrambled to make a creditable bogey out of the par-four hole but that still handed the lead to 39-year-old Kuchar, who was playing the more solid golf as the wind rose and temperature fell.
However, the sight of his rival alone at the top of the leaderboard appeared to click a switch in Spieth who responded with a birdie on the par-three 14th, where he was close to a hole-in-one.
Jordan Spieth scrambled to save bogey in the 13th before catching fire in the late holes to secure the win. (AP: Peter Morrison)
He then brilliantly sank a 45-foot putt to eagle the par-five 15th and followed that with birdies on the 16th and 17th to banish any thought of a repeat of his US Masters meltdown last year.
As he received the trophy, Spieth paid tribute to compatriot Kuchar, saying he had enjoyed the battle and describing him as a great champion and class act.
“I took about 20 minutes to play a shot today. Matt took it in his stride with a smile. He sets a great example for all of us,” Spieth said of his rival, who had been given underdog backing from the Birkdale crowd.
China’s Li Haotong finished third on 6-under-par after a superb last-round 63 left him on the range hoping, in vain, a few more bogeys from the leading pair might give him a shot at a playoff.
Irishman Rory McIlroy produced his best round of the week with a 67 to leave him on 5-under for the tournament and tied in fourth place with Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello who shot 68.
Leishman finishes in a flurry
Meanwhile, Australia’s Marc Leishman claimed his third British Open top-10 after signing off with a spirited 5-under 65.
Beaten in a playoff at St Andrews in 2015 and equal fifth at Royal Liverpool the year before, Leishman flew home again with five birdies in a valiant bogey-free round.
Marc Leishman (pictured here in the first round) surged late to share a tie for sixth spot. (AP: Alastair Grant)
He was tied sixth and the leading Australian at 4-under for the championship after starting the day one over the card.
Right till the end, the Victorian clung to the belief he could snare a share of the clubhouse lead with unfancied Haotong Li at 6-under.
“[I] Played well. Had it going there for a while,” Leishman said.
“I wanted to make eagle on 17. Hit a really nice putt too, which was nice. That up and down on 16 (for par) was really good as well. If that doesn’t go in, it’s over.
“Then to hit two good shots on 17 and hit driver on 18, which I haven’t done all week, to get it up there and try and give myself a chance of holing it.
“Considering I made the [half] cut on the number, it turned into a pretty good week.”
With his 66-65 weekend finish, Leishman rued a second-round 76 that ultimately cruelled his chances of winning the Claret Jug.
“You can’t throw in a 6-over-par round and expect to contend in majors,” he said before eventually finishing eight shots behind American winner Jordan Spieth.
Aussies at Royal Birkdale
Adam Scott closed with a tidy 3-under 67 to be equal 22nd at even par — but his three back-nine birdies were too little too late.
“A frustrating weekend,” he said.
“I played OK. I didn’t hit my irons very close. I only made one bogey on the weekend but I wasn’t really in that close to make a ton of birdies either.
“When it’s calm like this, you feel like you can shoot low. And if you’re a bit off, you can still have a respectable score, but it’s not really close to shooting low.”
Jason Day’s second round ultimately cost him a better finish after stabilising in the second half of the tournament. (AP: Alastair Grant)
Jason Day and Aaron Baddeley shared 27th at 1-over, but their final rounds couldn’t have been more contrasting.
While Day had hoped to make a Sunday charge from even par, the former major winner and world number one instead laboured to a one-over 71.
In soaring to his best-ever Open result, Baddeley matched Ian Baker-Finch’s memorable 64 the year the Queenslander won at Royal Birkdale in 1991.
“I played beautifully. I don’t think I could hit my irons much better than today,” Baddeley said.
Open debutant Andrew Dodt finished in a tie for 44th at 3-over after a final-round 70.
Scott Hend was unable to match his third-round 65 as he faded to 4-over with a closing 74.