In a finish that couldn’t have been better scripted, eight players held at least a share of the lead in the final round of the British Open last Monday. With just a few holes to play, that number had dwindled to five. Most eyes were on the pre-tournament favourite who was trying to win the third leg of the Grand Slam. Jordan Spieth, after a 60-foot birdie putt on 16, had a share of the lead only to fall one shot back after a bogey on one of golf’s hardest holes – the Road Hole 17th.
With Zach Johnson and Marc Leishman in the clubhouse at 15-under, Spieth, Jason Day and Louis Oosthuizen needed to birdie the last to join them in a playoff. Only Oosthuizen managed the feat. The four-hole playoff saw Johnson win by one from Oosthuizen with Leishman a further two shots back.
In doing so, Johnson joined the greats who have won at golf’s two most revered venues – St Andrews and Augusta, where he won in 2007. For so long under the radar, the lessor-known Johnson – Zach the peashooter as opposed to Dustin the cannon – has plied his trade believing in his ability. Nobody should underestimate what it took for the 39-year old from Iowa to win this Open Championship. In doing so, he not only beat South Africa’s Louis -Oosthuizen and Australia’s Marc Leishman in a tense playoff, but he also denied Jordan Spieth his chance of rewriting history by winning this year’s first three majors.
Starting the day at 9-under par, Johnson had teed-off an hour earlier than the leaders. The Road Hole – the ever-testing 17th – nearly proved his nemesis after he bogeyed it in regulation play to fall back to five-under par for the day. But on 18, he probably played his shot of the tournament by nailing a 30-foot downhill putt for birdie, and although he didn’t know at the time, entry into the playoff.
This was an Open Championship for the ages. Legends Tom Watson and Nick Faldo both said farewell. Zach’s namesake, the huge-hitting Dustin, finished with a whimper tied 49th after holding the 36-hole lead. For just the second time ever, wind and rain forced play to be abandoned causing the last round to be rescheduled for Monday. When eventually the last round did get under way, an amateur was one of three in a share of the lead – an occurrence last seen 88 years prior. And then there was the real prospect of Jordan Spieth three-peating; an event not managed since Ben Hogan accomplished the Masters-US Open-Open Championship treble in 1953.
Controversy reared its head on Saturday after organisers sent players out in high winds, in an attempt to catch up on time lost due to heavy rain the previous day. Players were letting their frustrations show as the wind played havoc with golf balls on the putting surfaces. The officials finally called a halt to play after seeing Louis Oosthuizen’s ball blown away from the hole on the 13th. What should have been a tap-in one-footer became a tricky eight-footer in howling winds. This had ceased to be golf. It had become a lottery. Most of the field were tucked up nice and warm in the clubhouse, thankful they had finished their second round the previous day. After seeing Oosthuizen’s ball react like it did, multiple major-winner and respected commentator Dottie Pepper said, “I think that is the most unfair thing I’ve ever seen on a golf course.”
Former major winner and US Ryder Cup Captain Paul Azinger noted these problems could have been avoided if the greens had not been cut to run so fast. “The only real problem here is that the modern day green speeds are just a little too fast for this kind of wind. They’ve played in this kind of wind before. We’ve seen black-and-white footage of it from past Open Championships. When the greens are running 9½ to 10½ over here they can’t handle a 35 to 40-mile-an-hour gust and the balls roll around. The greens are running at 10 on the stimpmeter. If they were running at nine, they’d be playing golf today.”
Lee Westwood, after just making the cut at level par agreed. “I wouldn’t say this is a particularly strong wind for a links course,” he said. “You should be able to play in 40mph winds. When you do set the greens so fast this is likely to happen, especially on exposed greens.”
Hopefully this Open Championship will not be remembered for this controversy, but rather for an incredibly exciting last day due to a leader board jammed pack with quality. It was one hell of a spectacle. It was an Open full of surprise. An Open that gave us as much brilliance as it did the unexpected. And all the while lurked the links-type weather, constantly throwing its mystical cloak over players and spectators alike. That Zach Johnson managed to come out on top, after a three-man four-hole playoff and win by the one shot, was a statement to his tenacity and self-belief.
What a final round! This had everything. This was golf at its best!