Garcia and Spieth Provide the Most Memorable Moments of 2017
As we prepare to look forward to a new year, there is no more appropriate time to take a look back on 2017, an amazing golf season that provided us with three first-time major winners and confirmation of Jordan Spieth’s status as a superstar.
For me, the highlight of the year came at Augusta, when Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose went head to head, each man looking for his first Green Jacket. And in Garcia’s case, his first major. The defining moment came at the 15th hole on the final day. Yet again, Garcia had fought his way into contention and, yet again, we waited for him to find a way to throw it away. We thought he had done so at the 13th hole, where he hit a horrible hook
And so the Spaniard came to the par-five 15th. He hit a magnificent drive and left himself a seven iron to the green. With the pin in its traditional Sunday position, the choice for Garcia was a stark one. Did he go for the fat of the green or did he take on the pin and risk putting his approach in the water guarding the green? Garcia chose to go for it and hit one of the best shots of his career, rifling a seven iron to within a few feet of the hole and going on to hole the putt for an eagle.
After all the heartbreak, after all the disappointment and recriminations, could the Spaniard finally hold on and win his first major? After 72 holes, he was level with Justin Rose, having missed a putt on the final green to win The Masters outright. All the smart money was on Rose winning the playoff, but Garcia
When the final round began, Garcia and Rose were the joint leaders at six-under. Rickie Fowler was in third place at five under, a shot ahead of Spieth, with whom he was paired. Although he trailed by two shots, Spieth was favourite to win, but the wheels came off in the final round as he stumbled to a 75 and fell down the leaderboard.
Garcia started the final round with a birdie and added another on the third hole. After a bogey at the fifth, Rose birdied the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth holes. Game on. He then parred every hole from the ninth to the 14th. But his challenge began to falter, with dropped shots at the 10th and 11th holes. And when he hooked his drive into an unplayable position at the 13th we all thought: “Here we go again."
Incredibly, he somehow managed to par the hole, and then he birdied the 14th.
His challenge was back on. And then came that incredible eagle at the 15th. Rose birdied the same hole and the 16th to move one ahead of the Spaniard. He then dropped a shot at the 17th.
Both men had birdie putts at the 72nd and both missed. When they returned to the 18th hole, Rose hit his drive into the trees and that, effectively, was that. It was his 70th major and his first victory – no golfer has ever played more before winning his first.
And so we came to Royal Birkdale, where Spieth appeared to have set up the final day for a victory parade towards the Claret Jug. He already had a Green Jacket and a US Open tucked away, and now here he was heading towards his third.
Spieth was three ahead of Matt Kuchar as they began the final day. And then he did the unthinkable. He bogeyed three of his first four holes and all of a sudden he was level with Kuchar. As good as Spieth is, the memory of the 2016 Masters, which he threw away after taking seven blows at the par-three 12th hole on the final day, must have gone through his mind. Was he about to collapse again? Remember, that just three months earlier he had also thrown away another golden opportunity to win The Masters.
A birdie at the fifth combined with a bogey by Kuchar at the sixth allowed Spieth to re-open a two-stroke advantage, but a bogey-birdie swing at the ninth evened the score heading to the back nine. Spieth had covered the front nine in three over par and was struggling badly. As he walked on to the 10th tee his caddie, Michael Greller, took him to one side and reminded him who he was.
It had no immediate impact and on the 13th hole Spieth hit one of the worst drives ever seen at an Open Championship. He carved the ball miles right into an unplayable lie on a giant mound. He had no option but to take a penalty drop and it took him more than 20 minutes to decide where he was going to drop his ball. Eventually he found a spot near the practice ground and left his third shot short of the green. He hit a poor chip but holed the putt for an unlikely bogey. Kuchar had made a routine par.
As Spieth walked up the green he apologised for keeping Kuchar waiting. Kuchar told him not to worry.
His thoughts may have changed after Spieth’s magnificent shot to the par-three 14th, which set up a birdie. He then holed a huge putt for an eagle at the 15th – in three holes he had gone from one behind to take the lead again. Spieth played the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th holes in five under par and came to the 18th leading by two.
When Kuchar found a greenside bunker and made bogey, Spieth was able to tap in for par and win the championship by three strokes to join Jack Nicklaus as the only golfers to win three legs of the career Grand Slam before the age of 24.
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