On such small margins, the chance to make history can hinge. In reality, the opportunity had probably eluded a fine young golfer a few minutes earlier.
A blast of rain that could have been ordered from on high by Ben Hogan gusted into Jordan Spieth’s face as he was preparing to take his second shot at the notorious Road Hole, 240 yards from the pin.
Spieth tried to “sting” a 3-iron to the front of the green but left himself too much to do to seize the par he needed to make things very interesting indeed. He missed a 6ft putt and carded a third bogey at the hole in four rounds. It is not dubbed the heartbreak hole for nothing.
He was left requiring a birdie at the last just to force his way into a play-off but could only make par. And that, as they say, was that.
Spieth’s Grand Slam dreams are now over. At least, they are for this year. Hogan remains the last – and only – golfer to win three majors in a row in the modern era. However, there is every chance Hogan’s fellow Texan can emulate and perhaps better his feat at some point in the future.
After all, next week Spieth will turn 22. Everything lies ahead for someone who has already tasted success in two majors this year. Indeed, there is the potential for glory in the weeks ahead, with Spieth eyeing the PGA Championship title next month.
“I don’t know how many guys have done three majors in a year,” he said. “I’m sure there’s only been a few. I know Tiger has done it and I am sure Jack [Nicklaus] has. So that would be the next goal as far as the history goes. My sights are set on the PGA Championship.”
These are ominous words for everyone else competing for that title. But for those who had trekked round with Spieth for all 18 holes yesterday there was a sense of deflation at the way the chance to make history fell away so suddenly, particularly after he appeared to put himself firmly back in contention with a 50ft putt at the 16th hole.
This moment of inspiration drew one of the biggest cheers of the day from the crowd.
But, apart from a briefly clenched fist, Spieth remained impressively calm. He passed by the group of reporters tracking his potentially significant round with a look of quiet determination on his frighteningly youthful features. They say it is a look reminiscent of Hogan.
Although the birdie put him jointly in the lead on 14 under, Spieth knew there was plenty of work still to do – and so it proved.
“None of the historical element came into my head whatsoever, because 17 is just so brutal and 18 is so tough to get close,” he said. “So at that point I was thinking: ‘how can we work our butt off to make a 4 on 17?’ ”
He has an engaging habit of saying “we” when reflecting on how he played, with presumable reference to his caddie Michael Greller. After Spieth’s drive at the 12th had perfectly split the bunkers, it was hard to see where his second shot landed. “C’mon Mike!” Spieth urged, as he sprinted down the fairway, signalling to his caddie to follow him.
It was one of the few moments when he resembled a normal, somewhat impetuous 21-year-old. At the 18th, when a birdie would have kept his hopes alive by securing a place in the play-off, he sent his drive way left. As he himself sighed later: “Who would have thought a drive on 18 was going to be what really hurt me at the end there?” He was frustrated only that he hadn’t given himself a better opportunity to create history when it was so clearly beckoning.
But then, as he pointed out, how many times has he been able to close out tournaments when it matters? He has done so at two majors in a row for starters, as well as the John Deere Classic he won rather than coming to Scotland to hone his links game, something several observers felt would hamper his chances of victory. Whether it did or not, who can tell?
He was still very much in contention for the title with two holes to go, as was playing partner Jason Day.
The Australian’s challenge also faded at the 18th after he could not gain the birdie he needed to secure a play-off.
Spieth wasn’t going to start beating himself up, and rightly so. “I have certainly closed lots of tournaments out – this just wasn’t one of them,” he said. Coming so close didn’t make it more agonising for Spieth.
Rather, it seemed to fill him with a sense of pride, particularly since he claims to have won a major when not playing as well as yesterday. “The way I played this week – and especially today, I would have won the US Open by more than just one shot. I know I didn’t play as well there,” he said.
But he wasn’t at the US Open yesterday; he was in St Andrews. It is a place where golfing immortality is as hard to grasp as a handful of haar.