Too much spin. Jordan Spieth needed a birdie on No. 18 to tie the co-leaders and join the playoff to determine the winner of the Open Championship. Spieth, of course, was looking to make history and become the only golfer since 1953 to win the first three majors of the year, trying to eventually capture the first Grand Slam since 1930.
The phenom's 102-yard approach was perfect, heading straight for the flag on the most historic green on the most historic golf course on the planet. A holed eagle would have won it in ludicrous fashion. A birdie would have secured him a spot in overtime, when greats thrive. But Spieth put too much spin on the ball and it sucked back to the fringe and the edge of the Valley of Sin.
His birdie try missed by about three inches to the left. With golf history and a shot at the Open Championship hanging in the balance, the 21-year-old finished the 72nd hole of the tournament with a par, and just like Arnold Palmer on this very course in 1960, he came up one shot short. One of the most elusive achievements in pro sports is safe for another year.
"We gave it a great effort," Spieth told ESPN. "Ideally, par-birdie is a perfect way to finish out here, and that would have gotten the job done. So it stings a little bit. Ultimately, I thought we gave it a pretty good run."
Spieth was within a shot of pretty rarified air. He is one of only six players to win the first two majors of the year. Only one — Ben Hogan in 1953 — won the first three. Some of the giants of the game were not able to accomplish what Spieth was gunning for in the wet and cold that's synonymous with Scotland golf.
Palmer arrived at St. Andrews after winning the Masters and the U.S. Open, and lost the British by a stroke. Jack Nicklaus won the first two legs of the Slam in 1972, but he lost by a shot at Muirfield. In 2002, Tiger Woods also went into Muirfield the winner of the first two legs and failed in his attempt.
The finishing hole at St. Andrews has been the scene of incredible moments through the years, from Seve's fist pump to Constantino Rocca's epic putt. Spieth woke Monday morning looking to add yet another.
On No. 16, he rolled in a 50-footer for a share of the lead. But a bogey on the more challenging No. 17 Road Hole dropped Spieth back a shot when one of the most clutch putters in golf this year missed an eight-footer, which set up the decisive final hole.
He played St. Andrews only once before arriving for the Open last week. His tee shot on No. 18 went hard left, but he said he liked the angle from there. With a share of the lead and a piece of history riding on his final tee shot of the tournament, he went left again. The plan was working in his favor, as he gave himself 102 yards to the pin. He walked it off himself.
The approach was perfect. But just a little too much backspin. And just like that, Spieth was off the green, out of the tournament, and out of the running to make golf history.
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