Rozner: Spieth's toughness shines at darkest moment

It looked like the worst tee shot of his life.

When Jordan Spieth missed his target by 99 yards and lost it way right — way, way right — on No. 13 Sunday, he had thoughts of another tee shot.

Yeah, he gave away the Masters in 2016 when he lost his tee shot off the hill and into Rae’s Creek on No. 12, and inexplicably dropped in an odd spot and hit yet another into the water.

At that moment, it was over.

As he searched for his ball Sunday on the 13th hole during the 146th Open Championship, during the 20 minutes it took to find the ball and a proper place to drop, Spieth remembered what really was the worst shot of his life.

It was the ball into the water at Augusta.

“Thoughts creep in from my last scenario when I was leading a major on Sunday,” Spieth told the media Sunday night at Royal Birkdale. “I was so confident and then suddenly the wheels had come off. So how do we get back on track to salvage this round to give yourself a chance at the end?

“It took a bogey to do so.”

It was an amazing bogey save on 13 that left Spieth only a shot behind Matt Kuchar.

Yes, he had given away a huge lead. Yes, he bogeyed three of the first four and shot a 37 on the front. Yes, he was in trouble on the back.

But, no, he had not quit. Jordan Spieth never quits, not on a hole, not on a round and not on a major.

That bogey saved his day. He followed with a brilliant tee shot on the par-3 14th and made birdie to tie. He followed with a bomb of an eagle putt on 15 as Kuchar made bird. Spieth birdied 16 and 17.

That’s a 2-3-3-4, or 5-under in four holes, to grab the lead back and end the 39-year-old Kuchar’s best chance to win a major.

Just that quickly, he had turned disaster into euphoria.

Time will tell how great a player Spieth turns out to be, but no calendar is necessary to understand what it took to grind out that bogey save on 13.

The 23-year-old Spieth was able to win his third major because he is simply unwilling to go away when most mortals would melt, and in the process was able to bury the ghosts of Augusta.

“I told my caddie that 17 pars and a birdie would have been fine, too,” Spieth laughed, after his 1-under round of 69 Sunday won the Open. “There’s a lot of roads to get there.”

Spieth’s road has always been more difficult than most, though you wouldn’t know it from all he’s accomplished.

He is one of two players to win multiple U.S. Junior Amateur titles. The other is Tiger Woods.

In 2013, he became the first teenager to win on the PGA Tour in 82 years when he chipped in at the John Deere.

In 2015, he became the second-youngest ever to win the Masters. Woods is the youngest.

He was also the youngest to win a major wire-to-wire in 101 years, since Walter Hagen in the 1914 U.S. Open.

In 2015, he became the youngest to win the U.S. Open since Bobby Jones in 1923.

He became the youngest to win the Masters and the U.S. Open in a career.

He was the youngest to win multiple career majors since Gene Sarazen in 1922.

He’s the second player to win 10 PGA Tour events before age 24. The other is Woods.

He’s the youngest British Open champ since Seve Ballesteros in 1979.

And he’s the second player to win three legs of the career grand slam before the age of 24. The other was a guy named Jack Nicklaus.

But his road is more difficult because he doesn’t have nearly the physical gifts of any player mentioned on that list.

Relative to the players in this era, Spieth is not nearly as talented or long, and there are 50 players in the field every week with more physical ability.

What separates Spieth is his need to win and his mental toughness.

Trailing by 8 shots to start the day, Dustin Johnson hit iron off the first tee Sunday when driver would have given him a chance at an early bird. Risky for sure, but isn’t risk called for if you want to win, if you need to win?

Johnson made double bogey anyway and went on to shoot a 7-over 77.

Spieth works harder and thinks the game better than anyone else on Tour.

The only thing Spieth does better than the field is make clutch putts, and he spent two hours on the practice green Sunday morning, working on something that’s already a strength.

He picked up about 5 shots on the field Friday during horrible weather conditions, when most everyone went to pieces in the wind and rain.

That’s the essence of Spieth. He outlasts you.

Interestingly, after chipping in to win the Travelers a few weeks ago, he took some time off and went on vacation to Cabo, where he hung out with — among others — Michael Jordan, Michael Phelps, Russell Wilson and Fred Couples.

“I looked around the room there and was like, ‘Wow, this is cool,’ ” Spieth said. “These are guys I’ve looked up to my entire life. It gives you a nice boost of confidence.”

Jordan and Phelps are the greatest ever at their sports, not bad guys to learn from when seeking advice.

The difference is those men are also extremely gifted athletically. The only thing Spieth has in common with them is his desire to win and his toughness.

And, oh yeah, a refusal to quit.

That’s why he’s the Champion Golfer of the Year.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score’s “Hit and Run” show at WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.


Source: Sports

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