American Jordan Spieth has won his second Emirates Australian Open with a clutch birdie at the first hole of a sudden-death playoff against Australians Cameron Smith and Ash Hall at Royal Sydney.
Spieth, who previously won at The Australian in 2014 and who was runner-up there in 2015, once again showed his love for Sydney courses and the nation’s most prestigious tournament.
Hitting a 9-iron to 4m on the first playoff hole, he buried the putt and then watched as Hall, a fraction closer, miss a putt to extend the playoff. Smith had previously missed from long range.
Four times when it came to the crunch in the final hour, Spieth found his nerve and putting stroke challenged. And four times, he rolled those putts in to win again – in fact taking just 26 throughout a rollercoaster final round.
It was the Spieth that we have come to know, “Mr Clutch” under pressure and 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 an horrendous ricochet 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 16th, 17th and 18th holes in regulation and then in the playoff. At the 16th, he bombed a birdie out of nowhere to move up, then at 17, he missed the green badly short and right and had to make a longish par-saver, which he drained. Then at the 18th, where he missed the green left and chipped up to 2m and had a tricky par-saver to reach the playoff. It was never in doubt.
He had closed with a 69, three under par. In the playoff, all three were in good shape off the tree and Hall actually hit it closer than Spieth.
But Spieth, the closer, stepped up to his putt and it never looked like going anywhere but centre cup, later joking with tournament volunteers he thought the putt to be “unmissable”.
Last year at The Australian, he had missed with an opportunity on the 72nd hole and it was in his head. “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 I drew back a little on that and said, ‘This is our time to close this one out’,” he said.
Watching 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, nor did Aaron Baddeley in the final group. 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 favourite city that I’ve ever travelled to”.
Spieth was not definitive about 2017, but Golf Australia is 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 from 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.”
For Jordan Spieth’s winning press conference, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1nsy10s9hA
For final scores, see: http://www.ausopengolf.com/scores