Sunday charge not enough to spare Spieth a Saturday meltdown

National Sports

United States’ Jordan Spieth reacts after missing a put on the 16th during the final round of the British Open Golf Championship at Royal St George’s golf course Sandwich, England, Sunday, July 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Ian Walton)

Jordan Spieth put on a Sunday charge that gave him a chance to win the British Open.

When it came up short, all he could think about was his Saturday meltdown, a bogey-bogey finish when he was in position to make birdie.

“Had I finished par-par, I’d have been in the final group. And if you’re in the final group, you feel like you have control,” Spieth said. “Obviously, those two strokes were important.”

Slowed by two bogeys over the opening six holes in the final round at Royal St. George’s, the three-time major champion began his rally with an eagle putt on the par-5 seventh hole and played the final holes in 6 under for a closing round of 4-under 66.

He wound up two shots behind Collin Morikawa, who played bogey-free over the final 31 holes and didn’t give Spieth or anyone else the help they needed.

Even more disheartening for Spieth is that the hallmark of his game — wedge and a putter — is what ultimately cost him a shot at his fourth major, and second British Open.

“The finish yesterday was about as upset as I’ve taken a finish of a round to the house,” said Spieth, who refused to speak to the media after his third round. “I walked in and wanted to … I said, ‘Is there something that I can break?’ I knew that was so important because I would have been in the final group.”

Tied for the lead as he stood in the 17th fairway Saturday afternoon, just under 60 yards to the pin, he came up short of the false front, hit putter from the fairway too strong and turned a birdie chance into a bogey. And then it got worse.

He had an uphill 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th that he missed, and what should have been a tap-in par from 2 feet barely hit the hole. Another bogey.

Instead of being in the final group, he was three shots behind and looking over his shoulder.

On the one hand, having to chase can give him freedom to fire at flags. But he spent the back nine making birdies and wondering what Morikawa was doing behind him.

“It’s a lot nicer when stuff’s happening in front of you and you can control, you can still birdie that hole,” Spieth said. “I get off the 16th today and it’s like, ‘Well, they could birdie behind, and there’s nothing I can do about it now.’

“When you’re the last to come in you’ve got the last chance on 18, and I think that’s the easiest place to come from, especially when it’s easier conditions.”

Spieth birdied the 13th and 14th holes to get within one shot. His birdie putt on the 15th hole burned the edge of the cup.

Behind him, Morikawa came up short of the ridge on the par-5 14th, leaving himself a 20-foot birdie attempt. He poured it in to restore the lead to two shots. On the 15th, the 24-year-old Californian had a rare miss with an iron, pulling it into thick grass left of the green. He chipped on to 12 feet and made as important a par putt as he made all day.

“I needed a break, and I didn’t get it from him,” Spieth said. “I did all I could. So I’m upset because I really felt like I played well enough to win and made a couple of really dumb mistakes that possibly, if I had maybe played the week before, wouldn’t have made.”

That was a reference to taking three weeks off after the U.S. Open, returning to competition at the final major of the year. Then again, a three-week break before the British Open worked for him when he won at Royal Birkdale in 2017.

“But at the same time, I did everything I could in the past few hours to win this championship,” Spieth said.

He had one last good look from 12 feet by the 17th hole that stayed out to the right, and he found thick grass left of the 18th fairway. He did well to get it on the green, some 40 feet away, and had to settle for par.

Ultimately, he had to settle for the silver medal. It was his first runner-up finish in a major since he lost a five-shot lead on the back nine in the 2016 Masters and had to help Danny Willett into the green jacket.

The majors are over for the year, though Spieth’s game clearly is trending.

He ended nearly four years without a victory at the Texas Open in April. This was his seventh finish in the top 15 in his last 14 tournaments dating to February. He is back up to No. 14 in the world, one spot ahead of Rory McIlroy. Spieth was at No. 92 some six months ago.

“I hit shots that are still uncomfortable for me, getting over some scar tissue,” he said of his recent slump. “It was a good week. I played well enough to win this week. I haven’t felt that way in a major in quite a while. Under major championship pressure on the weekend, my swing held up nicely.”

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