SILVIS, IL. – Bring on the British Open. Jordan Spieth is more than ready to claim the third leg of what could be the first modern day golf Grand Slam.
The 21-year old Masters and U.S. Open champion won the John Deere Classic for the second time without his best stuff on Sunday, then boarded a jet with a batch of other players for this week’s third major championship of the year at storied St. Andrews in Scotland.
Spieth started the final round of the JDC with a two-stroke lead but trailed by four with six holes to go. Tom Gillis, a 46-year old journeyman without a win in 171 starts on the PGA Tour, got hot early and posted a 7-under-par 64. That made him the clubhouse leader at 20-under 264 for the regulation 72 holes.
Gillis, who played four groups in front of Spieth, made a costly bogey at the 16th and Spieth made three birdies to force a playoff. The extra session went two holes, Spieth winning with a par after Gillis hit a tee shot into the right rough and his second into a pond on the left side of the fairway.
Spieth started the tournament with a par-71 round, showing rust after a two-week layoff. He was hot in rounds two and three, shooting 64 and 61, then cooled off again on Sunday.
“I didn’t have my best for the first 12 holes or so, but it’s very satisfying to have stretches like that and still come out with the win,’’ he said. “This gives me a lot of momentum to draw on.’’
Sunday wasn’t just a duel between Gillis and Spieth. Danny Lee, winner of the Greenbrier Classic – last week’s PGA Tour stop, and hometown favorite Zach Johnson also were in the hunt. Unusual circumstances derailed both.
Lee went brain-dead at the fourth hole. With the course soggy from heavy rains on Saturday, the lift, clean and place rule was invoked. That wasn’t the case on Sunday. Lee picked up his ball “without just thinking.’’ His caddie gave him the bad news – a one-stroke penalty that eventually kept him out of the playoff.
Johnson might have been in the playoff as well. He was lining up a birdie putt on the No. 16 green when what sounded like a gunshot forced him to jump back. It apparently came from a pontoon boat on the nearby Rock River and security officers quickly rushed to the scene.
“I don’t know if it was a backfire from a boat or a firecracker or what,’’ said Johnson, who was clearly shaken by the incident but didn’t blame his finish on it. He left his 35-foot birdie putt two feet short but salvaged par and wound up tied for third with Lee, one stroke out of the playoff.
Gillis was on the brink of being the latest first-time champion at the JDC – there have been seven just since 2000. He carried a No. 643 world ranking into the week and was No. 194 in the FedEx Cup standings and No. 199 on the PGA Tour’s season money list. In finishing second he earned a seat on the jet to the British Open.
“The week was a success overall,’’ he said. “I haven’t shown a whole lot of form coming back from shoulder surgery. I missed four months this year, and you start to wonder how much more is there. After what I saw this week I’d say maybe I’ve got some time left.’’
Spieth has much more of it, of course. He left for St. Andrews as the sixth player to have won the first two majors championship of the year. The only Grand Slam in golf history was by Bobby Jones in 1930, but his four wins were in different tournaments – the U.S. Amateur and British Amateur replacing the Masters and PGA Championship, which are included now. Jones’ other wins were in the U.S. Open and British Open.
“I’ve heard St. Andrews is playing softer than usual, which is kind of nice for having come from here,’’ said Spieth. He has been at St. Andrews only once, for two days over three years ago. He loved the setting, but was widely criticized the last three weeks for not skipping the JDC to allow for more preparation in Europe with such a big title on the line.
“I really didn’t care about that,’’ he said. “I came here for a reason, and we accomplished that reason. Certainly we have some momentum going into next week.’’