When Jordan Spieth teed off on Sunday at Royal Birkdale last year he knew he led every player in the field except Matt Kuchar by a half dozen shots. He knew his experiences in similar situations would be crucial. He knew he was 18 holes away from moving within a PGA Championship of the career Grand Slam.
What he didn’t know was that the next few hours would be the most eventful of his young life, and arguably the most memorable major championship finish in a generation.
Things didn’t go well from the outset. He bogeyed the first, the third and the fourth holes to fall into a tie for the lead with Kuchar.
Those putts that had seemed so effortless for the first three days refused to drop. He became uncomfortable with his swing, and by the turn all the momentum he’d built over 54 holes was squarely in Kuchar’s corner.
It’s not often that one can so easily identify the precise moment when you’ve reached rock bottom, but for Spieth there might as well have been a street sign adjacent the 13th tee box – You’ve arrived.
“It was just a bad 2 ½ hours that I had out of that entire week,” Spieth explained in a recent interview with Golf Channel. “I hit the ball beautifully, was putting well, chipping well the whole week. I just had that 2 ½ hours and I was able to not let that be four bad hours.”
This is how Spieth remembers that wild final round at the 2017 Open Championship:
The Downward Spiral
When Spieth made the turn, his three-shot lead over Kuchar was gone and the two were tied. For historians, the final turn had a déjà vu feel to it, similar to how Spieth had come unglued during the final round at the 2016 Masters.
But if Spieth has a tendency to appear nervous or unsettled during these circumstances, the internal dialogue at Royal Birkdale was surprisingly upbeat.
“I actually felt a little sigh of relief after I lost the lead,” Spieth said. “Like it almost felt easier being the chaser, and that happened two or three different times during that final round, where I lost the lead and then felt better because of it.”
Before things got better, however, they’d get much, much worse.