Zach Johnson prevails in playoff to claim Claret Jug
Doug Ferguson / Associated Press
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Jordan Spieth’s spirited bid for a Grand Slam was stopped Monday by Zach Johnson, who is no longer just a normal guy from Iowa.
Now with a claret jug to go with that green jacket.
Johnson captured his second major – this one at the home of golf – winning the British Open in a playoff over Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman that capped off five wild days at St. Andrews and a suspense-filled final round.
Most eyes were on 21-year-old Spieth. No one ever came closer to the third leg of the Grand Slam.
Spieth fought back from taking four putts for a double bogey on No. 8 with back-to-back birdies. He rolled in a 50-foot birdie putt for a share of the lead with two holes to play. After missing an 8-foot par putt on the 17th hole, he needed a birdie on the closing hole to join the playoff.
“Up and down for a playoff,” was the last thing Spieth said to caddie Michael Greller from about 90 yards away. It was too far right and rolled to the edge of the Valley of Sin short of the green, and his birdie attempt up the slope stayed inches left of the cup.
“We gave it a great effort,” Spieth said.
He joined Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods – the three biggest names in golf over the last half-century – as the only players to capture the Masters and U.S. Open, only to come up short in a quest for the holy grail in golf – all four professional majors in the same year.
Johnson won the Masters in 2007 and described himself as just a normal guy from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The 39-year-old Johnson now has two majors among his 12 PGA Tour victories, an astounding record and an example that a good wedge game and putter can still go a long way in this era of the long ball. Johnson was in tears when he was interviewed off the green, and he cradled the jug after his acceptance speech.
“I’m grateful. I’m humbled. I’m honored,” Johnson said. “This is the birthplace of the game, and that jug means so much in sports.”
On a tense afternoon of shadows and showers on the Old Course, Johnson closed with a 6-under 66 by holing a 30-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole in regulation, and caddie Damon Green strutted and flapped his arms in his celebratory chicken dance.
Johnson was the first to post at 15-under 273 with his 30-foot birdie putt.
Leishman, who considered giving up golf in April when his wife nearly died of a rare respiratory illness, made one bad swing in the closing holes that cost him a bogey on the 16th hole to fall into a share of the lead with Johnson. He had a birdie putt for the win that stayed wide left.
After Spieth had to settle for par and a 69 to tie for fourth, Oosthuizen made a 10-foot par putt on the Road Hole at No. 17 to stay one shot behind, and he delivered a clutch moment of his own with a wedge to 5 feet for birdie and a 69 to join the playoff.
It was the first British Open playoff since Stewart Cink beat Tom Watson at Turnberry in 2009, and the first involving more than two players since 2002 at Muirfield, the year Woods failed in his bid for the third leg of the slam.
Spieth showed guts over the final two hours, and class when his bid was over. He walked off the 18th green applauding the fans and giving them a thumbs-up, stayed to watch the closing hole in the playoff and came back onto the course to hug Johnson.
Just two weeks ago, he went to Iowa to take part in a charity event for Johnson before playing – and winning – the John Deere Classic in a playoff for his fourth win of the year. He was questioned for not coming over to St. Andrews to prepare for a rare occasions of attempting the Grand Slam, though Spieth put that notion to rest with a performance that kept him around the lead all week.
It was the first British Open to end on Monday since 1988 because of a brief rain delay Friday morning and 10 1/2-hour wind delay on Saturday. But what a show. With 14 players separated by three shots – half of them major champions – no one seized control the entire day.
Eight players had at least a share of the lead at one point.
Padraig Harrington drove into a gorse bush on No. 6 and made double bogey. Adam Scott was tied for the lead until he found a pot bunker behind the 14th green for bogey, missed an 18-inch par putt on the next hole and hit onto the road and out-of-bounds on the 18th. He played last the five holes in 5-over par.
Sergio Garcia couldn’t keep up with his putter. Paul Dunne, the 21-year-old Irishman bidding to become the first amateur since Bobby Jones in 1930 to win the claret jug, started bogey-bogey and closed with a 78.
Oosthuizen was a runner-up for the second straight major. He was one shot behind Spieth in the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.
Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask. finished as the low Canadian and ended the tournament at 1-under par, tied for 68th.
Spieth now goes to the PGA Championship with a tiny piece of history left to chase. No one has ever swept the three American majors in the same year. And he can only hope he gets this chance again. Palmer, Nicklaus and Woods never again won the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year.