Jordan Spieth ties for lead with big birdie at No. 16, but can’t hang on to reach the playoff

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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — The grinder beat the kid. Now, Zach Johnson, by winning the extended British Open on Monday, has as many major trophies as Jordan Spieth.

As a matter of fact, Johnson has two of the most coveted prizes in the sport, achieved at the two most coveted places. He won a Masters green jacket in 2007 at Augusta National and the Claret Jug at the Old Course.

He will wake up soon and realize that’s a career, a legendary one. It will come to him slowly because the 39-year-old from Iowa City is the tour’s self-effacement leader.

When asked about winning even more majors, he smiled and said, “I never even thought I’d win one.”

Right down to the final hole, the final minutes, the final gasps, this was a tournament all about Spieth, the 21-year-old Texan who was trying to become the first since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win the first three majors of the year.

Right to his last putt that drifted inches from the cup and kept him out of the three-man playoff that Johnson won, Spieth was in it, digging, trying, calculating.

Which says it all.

That Spieth was even close at the end, in a sport that tears your heart out with wind, rain, bad bounces, bad swings and little lumps on little hills that change everything, was beyond remarkable.

A huge part of the golf world pulled for him to match Hogan, to go on to Whistling Straits and the PGA Championship next month and become a Grand Slam winner. Spieth didn’t do it, but he didn’t flop, either. He succumbed to a field of other great players, playing better.

“There was some fantastic golf …,” Spieth said.

Johnson won in a playoff — at the British Open, they use a four-hole aggregate score. He finished it 1-under par, a shot ahead of Louis Oosthuizen and three ahead of Marc Leishman.

When the smoke cleared, one of the first to venture out and congratulate Johnson was Spieth.

Johnson was emotional when asked about that.

“He said congrats, that he was proud of me,” Johnson said. “He’s a really good friend of mine. Granted, he’s 18 years younger, which is perspective. … A lot of you guys know him. He’s a better person than he is a golfer.”

Until Monday, Johnson was best known not just for winning the Masters, but for doing it by laying up on all the par 5s. He seldom hits it long, but seldom hits it crooked.

He keeps it going, which is what he did Monday, taking the lead in the clubhouse with a birdie on No. 18, posting a 66 for a 15-under 273. Then Johnson waited to see who would join him in the playoff.

Leishman (66) did first and South Africa’s Oosthuizen (69) did later. But Spieth (69), playing in front of Oosthuizen, had a chance to become No. 4 in the playoff group.

Spieth made a 35-foot birdie putt on No. 16 to tie for the lead. But the Road Hole, No. 17, which he played in 3 over for the tournament, bit him again with a bogey.

“Seventeen was brutally challenging,” he said.

That forced the birdie try at 18.

Inexplicably, Spieth yanked his drive to the wide-open, most-photographed fairway in golf, sending it way left, leaving him an approach shot from a distance that didn’t suit him.

“Who thought a drive on No. 18 was going to be what really hurt me at the end,” he said. “It’s kind of hard not to hit a good shot there.”

Spieth had about 105 yards to the pin. His shot hit on the green and rolled back down into the bumps of the Valley of Sin. Still, he is such a good putter that the 35 feet he had left was not impossible, even though the ball had to come up and over a ridge.

“The putt on 18 was a little left the whole way,” Spieth said, adding that he knew better and just didn’t hit it well.

Oosthuizen shared the playoff lead with Johnson after the first hole, when they both made birdie putts. Leishman immediately fell out of the playoff picture with a bogey on No. 1. Johnson also birdied the next hole, No. 2, and hung on to win, when Oosthuizen’s tying birdie putt on the fourth playoff hole, No. 18, missed.

Johnson was crowned “The Champion Golfer of the Year,” as all British Open winners are. The “Champion Golfer of the Year” is Zach Johnson. The future of golf is Jordan Spieth.

Grand plans fall through
Jordan Spieth had moved into a share of the lead after a birdie on No. 16 and his hopes for a Grand Slam were alive. Then he bogeyed No. 17 and missed a birdie putt on No. 18 to miss out on the playoff.
Hole Result
17 Bogey
18 Par