If Francesco Molinari was unruffled by the presence of Tiger Woods as the pair navigated the Carnoustie links alongside each other, the same could not be said for Jordan Spieth, who was jolted by the 14-time major winner’s mere presence at the top of the leaderboard.
The defending champion had not intended to keep tabs on the man who has won the Claret Jug on three occasions and has made no secret of the fact he felt ready to take that tally to four, but a chance glance soon informed him of the very real threat being posed by his fellow American.
“Yeah, I saw it on maybe No 7 or 8 green, and it was an accident. I looked up and I saw Tiger at No 1, and he was leading solo, and I went to Michael [Greller, his caddie]: “Dammit, I looked at the board, dude.” I was frustrated at myself. He’s like: ‘He hasn’t been in this position in ten years, and you’ve been here how many times in the last three years’. I was like: ‘I feel fine. It’s okay. This is what you dream about anyway’.”
But, at that stage of his five over par final round, the dream was in danger of becoming a nightmare.
A bogey at the fifth was followed by a double-bogey at the sixth. A wayward shot into a bush cost him strokes and time, leading to him and playing partner Xander Schauffele being placed on the clock a few holes later.
“It put us behind. I really rushed the tenth and 11th holes when we were being timed, including a bad time on the 11th tee. Looking back, you know, that was a turning point in the round. If you get 1-under on those two holes with a downwind par 5 left, you know, it’s a different story.”
The damage done by his unplanned edition of ‘hunt the Titleist Pro’ was compounded by the fact that Woods was chalking up the birdies elsewhere on the course to move into the lead before he too fell away, allowing Molinari to come through the pack.
Just as it had in 2015, this old championship denied Spieth another slice of history. At St Andrews three years ago, he had entered the final round looking to become the first player since Ben Hogan to win the first three majors of the year; yesterday, he stood on the first tee at Carnoustie with the opportunity to become the youngest player to retain the Claret Jug since Tom Morris jr in the 1870s and join a list of just seven men who have won back to back Open titles.
Starting the day in a three-way tie for the lead at nine-under par, on a day when fortunes ebbed and flowed, he ended it tied for ninth and just four under par.
“I’ve already gone through the frustration,” he said afterwards. “I’m kind of on acceptance now. When you put yourself in position enough times, it goes your way sometimes and it doesn’t sometimes. I’m obviously frustrated with hitting a couple of iron shots in bunkers. I felt like I had really good control of the ball but I didn’t play the wind the right way on those two holes. I was trying to fight it instead of accepting that the wind is going to win out here. So those two bogeys kind of hurt.
“Then obviously, No 6, I could have played a mid-iron to the middle of the fairway, but I was trying to take the burn out of the equation by hitting 3 wood to carry it. It was unlucky. It went into the only bush that’s over on the right side. If it misses it, I hit the green and have a birdie putt.
“But I never got down on myself. I was still in the driver’s seat. I wasn’t comparing myself to Xander. I wasn’t comparing myself to any of the roars [elsewhere on the course]. I was strictly focused on the shot at hand. I felt the best coming into today and throughout the round felt the most comfortable that I’ve felt at a Sunday in a major in my life, in all reality. It just simply didn’t go my way.”