AMERICAN prodigy Jordan Spieth said closing out his victory at the Australian Open in such spectacular style was a major step on the path that he hopes will take him to the top of the world rankings one day.
The 21-year-old Texan marked himself out as a future major champion when, on debut, he led by two strokes at one stage in the final round of the US Masters in April and ended up sharing second behind Bubba Watson.
After he had a share of the lead at the start of the final round at the Players’ Championship in May only to shoot a 74 for a share of fourth, however, golf pundits started talking about his “weekend troubles”.
There were no such problems yesterday, though, as he simply blew away a field containing the current world numbers one and three in difficult conditions with a flawless round of eight-under-par 63 to win the Stonehaven Cup by six strokes.
“This week was big because I was able to close it out, I felt the pressure, felt the nerves and performed the best I’ve ever performed,” he told reporters after what he described as his best-ever round.
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“There’s a big difference between being great at Augusta and coming up just short and closing out a tournament. It just feels completely different.
“Even though that week was one of the most memorable of my career, it still wasn’t the same as this week and walking down the 18th.”
Spieth’s final-round score was a record on the newly-reconfigured course but a better indication of its quality was that only seven other players finished under par for the tournament.
Australian Rod Pampling hit a 68 for second place, a shot better than compatriot Brad Rumford (70) in third with another local Greg Chalmers (71) in fourth on five-under. All three secured berths at next year’s Open Championship at St Andrews.
Adam Scott (71) was fifth on four under, while defending champion Rory McIlroy finished 15 shots off the pace in a share of 15th after a 72.
Starting the day in a three-way tie for the lead at five-under, Spieth quickly eased ahead of his rivals with his first birdie at the third.
After parring the fourth, he really put his foot on the gas and drained birdie putts of ten, five and 15 feet on the next three holes to open up a gap of four shots over the field.
There were no more birdies – but crucially in the difficult conditions no bogeys – until the 14th but that started another strong run and he picked up three more shots on the run-in.
“I didn’t think the round was out there but the putts just kept going in,” Spieth said in the greenside presentation. “It’s the best round I’ve ever played, the best win I’ve ever had, it’s pretty awesome.”
Shortly after he turned professional at 19, Spieth became the youngest player in 82 years to win a PGA Tour event at the John Deere Classic and was named PGA Rookie of the Year in 2013.
Despite his brilliant week at Aug-usta, eight top-ten finishes on the PGA Tour and a Ryder Cup debut, however, he looked like ending 2014 season winless.
“There’s been a lot of close calls from the last time I won until now and I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was eating at me a little bit,” he said.
“It’s tough when you get so close at big events and you are not able to pull it off and I decided to take care of business by a healthy amount today.” McIlroy used his victory at Royal Sydney last year as a springboard to a stellar 2014, in which he won The Open and US PGA Championship and regained the number one ranking.
“If I had the follow-up year Rory had this year, I think I’d be pleased,” added Spieth with a grin.
While disappointed to lose his title, McIlroy insisted it wouldn’t take the gloss off a stunning season.
“Anything under par today would have been a good score,” he said. “I just couldn’t get anything going and I hit a few loose shots again. It just wasn’t meant to be this year.”
Reflecting on his season, McIlroy added: “I’m not going to let what happened this week ruin the best year I’ve had.”
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