SOUTHPORT (England) • Jordan Spieth's ball was nestled in the knotty grass on a knoll, more than 120 yards right of the fairway he had aimed to reach. His hands flew to his head in mortification as he watched the shot's wayward path. His first thought was that he would be lucky to escape with a double-bogey six on the hole, No. 13.
The three-stroke lead that Spieth, 23, had carried into the final round of the 146th British Open at Royal Birkdale was gone when he reached the 13th tee on Sunday.
Spieth was tied with Matt Kuchar, the other competitor in his pairing, and he tried to block out memories of the last time he had frittered away a final-round lead at a Major.
But he felt the same helplessness, the same nagging doubt, as he had at the US Masters last year, when he lost a five-stroke lead in the final nine holes.
Spieth knew he had to close out this Major to throw dirt over the memory of that collapse and, as he said, get "over the hill". But the hill on which Spieth's ball came to rest was better negotiated by a goat than a golfer.
As he surveyed the situation and mentally checked off his options, he was calmed by something his caddie, Michael Greller, had told him - that he belonged in the same league as sporting greats like basketballer Michael Jordan and swimmer Michael Phelps.
"I need you to believe that right now, because you're in a great position in this tournament," Spieth recalled Greller saying.
HOW SPIETH TURNED IT AROUND
13TH, PAR 4 KUCHAR LEADS
SPIETH BOGEY KUCHAR PAR
14TH, PAR 3 LEVEL
SPIETH BIRDIE KUCHAR PAR
15TH, PAR 5 SPIETH LEADS
SPIETH EAGLE KUCHAR BIRDIE
16TH, PAR 4 SPIETH LEADS
SPIETH BIRDIE KUCHAR PAR
17TH, PAR 5 SPIETH LEADS
SPIETH BIRDIE KUCHAR BIRDIE
18TH, PAR 4 SPIETH LEADS
SPIETH PAR KUCHAR BOGEY
From there, the golfer showed what he was made of. He was smart, and he took full advantage of the rules, accepting a one-stroke penalty for an unplayable lie.
According to golf.com, this left him with three options as he bid to literally get out of the hole he had dug himself into at the 13th.
The first was to go back to the tee and retake the shot.
A second option was to drop his ball within two club lengths of where it lay, as long as it was no nearer to the hole. But that meant that Spieth would have to play his shot from a sloping lie.
He chose to go with the third option. Taking care to follow the rules about a drop, he backed way up - until he reached the practice range, which was not out of bounds.
He spent the next 20 minutes pacing around the driving range trying to find a spot to hit his next shot from, arguing with officials about whether or not he could go over, or around, or between, two parked trucks.
Fortunately for him, the trucks qualified as temporary immovable obstructions, which entitled him to line-of-sight relief.
He got to drop the ball more than one club length but within two of the trucks, onto a flat lie on the practice range.
Hitting toward a pin that he could not see, he landed his next shot between two bunkers protecting the green. Then he pitched to eight feet and made the putt for a bogey five that left him at seven under, one stroke behind Kuchar.
For the first time all weekend, Spieth was the challenger, not the pursued, and he found that freeing.
His focus became laser sharp. He played the final five holes in five under to post a one-under 69 and a 72-hole score of 12-under 268 for his third victory in a Major. He finished three strokes ahead of Kuchar, who also posted a 69.
"All of the sudden, the lid came off," Spieth said, referring to an imaginary cover over the hole.
He nearly aced the par-three 14th. He drained a 48-footer for eagle on the par-five 15th, made a 25-foot birdie putt at the par-four 16th, birdied the 17th after a textbook chip, and two-putted the 18th for the easiest par of a trying day.
"Certain situations are going to bring more tension and you have to kind of channel that the right way," said Spieth, who is a PGA Championship title away from becoming the sixth man to complete a career Grand Slam, joining Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
THE RIGHT STUFF
Certain situations are going to bring more tension and you have to kind of channel that the right way.
JORDAN SPIETH, coming from a shot back after the 13th hole to win by three strokes.
"This is as much of a high as I've ever experienced in my golfing life. And I'm going to enjoy it more than I've enjoyed anything that I've accomplished in the past."
Kuchar, 39, has played in 47 Majors, without a win, and this was only his second top-10 finish in the British Open.
"It's crushing," he said. "To be this close, to taste it with five holes to go, it's a hard one to sit back and take.
"But Jordan is a great champion and certainly played that way in the finishing stretch today.
"It was impressive stuff when a guy does something like that. All you can really do is sit back, tip your cap and say, 'Well done'."
NYTIMES, REUTERS, GUARDIAN