Is Jordan Spieth lucky? On six occasions on Sunday alone, and on countless more over his short but incredibly successful career to date, I have found myself reacting with astonishment to where Jordan Spieth’s miscues finish and the scores he salvages from them.
I know I’m not the only one – which is why his catastrophic quadruple at the 12th in the final round of last year’s Masters is indelibly lodged in all our memories.
For me at least, it wasn’t schadenfreude but rather catharsis. There was a sense of justice being done – that someone hitting so many poor shots ought not to be on his way to a Green Jacket.
It’s still hard to credit that Spieth, having played the first 13 holes in four over par yesterday, went on to change personalities and complete the final five in five under.
Poor old Matt Kuchar took a one-shot lead to the 14th, went par, birdie, par birdie, and found himself two shots behind standing on the final tee.
But as sensational as Spieth’s play was down the stretch, you feel like he was fortunate still to have still been in contention.
So here’s my analysis of what he did, how he did it and how he got away with it. Is he lucky or are we missing something?
Finds a hardpan lie for his third to the 1st
Spieth’s tee shot finishes on a rough bank. His second is a hack out. It goes straight left on him – towards the fans, more rough and gorse bushes. It comes to rest on a path, from where he pitches on to the green and two-putts for bogey.
Was he lucky?
No and yes. For a start, he was unlucky in that his tee shot stuck on the hill when other balls landing there had obeyed gravity and popped out on to the fairway. The second, though, could very easily have ended up in a bush.
Hook off the 6th tee ends on short grass with a clear swing
Spieth’s 3-wood starts left and goes further that way. It is so wide there is lost ball potential – like Rory McIlroy on the 15th later on – but it lands in the spectators and comes to rest on ground where they have flattened grass and wood chippings down. The lie is so good he gets his 3-wood back out for his 262-yard second shot.
Was he lucky?
Yes, undoubtedly. On the same hole, Kuchar hit a far better tee shot that finished in a weird spot on a hill, next to a bunker, in heavy rough. Spieth went on to save par, while Kuchar took five.
Hook off the 10th tee stays above ground
Spieth hits his driving iron left off the 10th, which doglegs sharply to the left. He is so wide he gets inside the bunkers that protect the inside of the dogleg. Better still, he draws a good lie and because he has gone on what is almost a straight line to the green, he only has a wedge in.
Was he lucky?
Yes. From a similar tee shot 24 hours earlier, McIlroy found sand and it led to a momentum-arresting double-bogey six. Normally, there would be a real danger of a lost ball up on that hill. Happily for Jordan, not by the Sunday of an Open week that had seen 235,000 fans marching across Birkdale.
Hook from the 11th fairway ends up in a clear spot on the top of the dune
From the middle of the 11th fairway Spieth has just a short iron in his hands with the wind blowing from right to left. His approach goes straight left on him and finishes, once more, in the middle of the spectators. He is also short-sided. There is much gunge just a few yards away that could have cost him a penalty drop. As it is, he has a lie that enables him to play a delightful recovery to a few feet. And he saves par once more.
Was he lucky?
Yes, surely he was on this occasion. It was a very poor shot and he got away with it. That said, it’s one thing getting the break and another taking advantage of it. The chip was so good – and the putt still needed holing.
That tee shot on the 13th only costs him a shot
Spieth had a strategy on the 13th all week to drive right of the wispy rough to the right of the fairway to take the bunkers out of play. He said he wanted to make sure he didn’t miss left, which he thought was the worst miss. Bear in mind, he had hit several shots left up to this point so was guarding against that. A wet clubface was another factor, according to Spieth. He hits it off the planet – although not quite as wide as some of the more excitable were leading us to believe. It is around 50 yards from the fairway and so presumably 25 yards right of where he was aiming. It rebounded right on landing, as well. At least, I think it did.
Was he lucky?
He was certainly lucky to find it because it had bounced on to the far side of the dunes to an area where there were no spectators. The way he handled the situation from there on, though, was a lesson to any golfer, professional or amateur. Who wouldn’t have taken a swipe and probably ended up in more trouble? That would have resulted in a six or more. Spieth realised that by going back on to the practice ground he could make five. And what a five it was. He got his third back on to the golf course and within the vicinity of the green and then calmly chipped and putted. Brilliant course management. Brilliant execution.
It felt to me that once Spieth had the good fortune to find his ball, he had mentally written down a five on his scorecard and moved on to the 14th tee to start again.
Wide tee shot on 17 is harmless and leads to a birdie
By now, Spieth has a two-shot lead, making the tee shot on the 17th crucial. The hole doglegs from right to left and the wind is blowing from left to right. Spieth doesn’t really know where it’s going so this is a stressful moment, probably the last one where he can lose the championship. He knows he has a two-way miss at his disposal. Wisely, he chooses not to fight the wind and squeezes one down the right. It isn’t good but nor is it disastrous. It is 15 yards right of the fairway, right of the bunkers, and the ball is still visible when it stops.
Was he lucky?
No, this was just very smart play. OK, he drew a better than average lie but he also knew he would find his ball over there and be able to advance it far enough to get a wedge in his hand for his third shot. Which in Jordan’s world, is birdie time. Even though he had to stop his swing halfway through his pitch after a snapper went too early.
In trying to take a tight line, Kuchar’s drive got stuck on the side of the dune – a much more dangerous spot and one that Spieth wisely avoided.
So was he lucky or not?
Yes and no. He certainly drew a couple of good breaks but, make no mistake, Spieth’s course management is in a league of its own. Especially when compared to the likes of McIlroy and Dustin Johnson. It also helps when your short game is as sharp as Spieth’s – a part of the game he doesn’t get enough credit for. We already know how good his wedges are and we know how good his putting is.
His rationale when not swinging well is just to give himself a chance with the clubs he is best at.
He’s also masterful at making the most of a good break, which is a special skill in itself.
Many of us, having got our ball to within a chip of the 13th green in three, would still have run up a six of seven. But not Jordan.
It just goes to show that a strong mind is more than a match for a strong long game – at least some of the time.
NCG at the Open