20 Nov 2016
Four times when it came to the crunch in the Emirates Australian Open, Jordan Spieth found his nerve and putting stroke challenged.
Four times, he rolled those putts in to win the Open, his second in the past three years, in a playoff over Queenslander Cameron Smith and Victoria's Ash Hall.
Relentless, inexorable, this is the Spieth that we have come to know, Mr Clutch under pressure. Smith, the unlucky loser on the day, said it best: "I think he's shown everyone why he's one of the best players in the world.''
The American was almost out of the running at the mid-point of his final round today, suffering for an horrendous richochet off the flagstick at the seventh, and taking bogey at the eighth. He had fallen four shots behind the leader, Geoff Ogilvy, but he was far from done.
The four killer blows came at the 70th, 71st, 72nd holes in regulation and in the playoff. At the 16th in regulation, he bombed a birdie out of nowhere to move up, then at 17, he missed the green badly to the right and had to make a longish par-saver. Which he buried, of course. Ditto for the 18th, where he missed the green left, chipped up to two metres, and had a tricky par-saver to reach the playoff. Never in doubt.
He had closed with a 69, three-under par. So to the playoff against Smith and Hall, and Spieth, a two-time major winner, hit a piercing nine iron, straight at the flag and checking up four metres short of the stick. Here was the fourth example of what makes him so great, the ability to score that Geoff Ogilvy spoke of before the tournament.
Spieth stepped up to his putt and it never looked like going anywhere but centre-cup. Last year at the Australian, he had missed with an opportunity on the 72nd hole at The Australian. It was in his head, that little frailty. "I had a chance last year on 18 and didn't hit a great putt, and this time I had that same chance with a very similar putt in the playoff and capitalised, so drew back a little on that and said 'this is our time to close this one out'.''
Watching him from close range, Hall had no doubts what was about to happen. "I knew he'd make that,'' said Hall, who would go on to have a shorter putt to extend the playoff. But the Australian missed.
Spieth hugged Michael Greller, his caddie, and his girlfriend, Annie Verret. In 2014 when he won at The Australian, it launched his incredible 2015 season, and he hopes for something similar. "The way we played the playoff, I think it's going to do wonders for me,'' he said. "I've been in a bit of a stall hitting the shots when they mattered. To hit those two shots in there right where I wanted to hit them and then to make the putt with it, is really big going forward and it's something I can draw on all next year.''
It was a day when the door was opened by Geoff Ogilvy, the overnight leader, who had a poor day and a calamitous 16th hole, where he drove into the trees and took two shots to extract himself, and his tournament was over. He finished tied-fourth.
But others fell away, too. Adam Scott (73) never found any momentum. Spieth was the one to reel them in, and later, he said there was a good chance he would return to Sydney to defend his title at The Australian next year in what he calls ''probably my favorite city that I've ever travelled to'' (his trip this time included a bridge climb with his partner).
Spieth was not definitive about 2017, but we can all be hopeful. "We love coming here,'' he said. "Certainly plan on it, it's hard to tell a year from now. But how can you argue with coming here and gaining the confidence that we've had out of this event. So I certainly plan to; just don't know what's going to happen 12 months fro now.
"I've cut out a lot of overseas travel this year, but we still came here, because that's how important this event is to us and I haven't gone anywhere else.''