GOLF was at its dramatically cruel best overnight in a 2015 British Open final round that promised so much for Aussie golf.
Coming down the stretch the Aussie flag was dominant at times atop the St Andrews leaderboard with the now established “old firm” of major performers Marc Leishman, Jason Day and Adam Scott all threatening big things.
But in the end it was an unlikely American hero in the unobtrusive Zach Johnson who claimed the Claret Jug after a three man playoff, adding the iconic championship to a trophy cabinet that already contains the 2007 US Masters.
Johnson’s putter was the big difference when it came to the crunch, initially sinking a crucial birdie putt in regulation on the 18th to set the clubhouse lead at 15-under; and then potting two straight birdie putts in a four hole playoff with Leishman and 2010 champion Louis Oosthuizen.
An unfortunate lie in an old divot on the first playoff hole obviously didn’t help Leishman, who after avoiding the cut by a single stroke shot a magnificent final two round tally of 64-66. That score would be enough to win most British Opens (just ask Ian Baker-Finch).
After posting 15 unanswered birdies on the first 33 holes of the weather delayed “weekend”, Leishman led the championship on 16-under with just three holes to go. A bogey on the 16th was the beginning of his demise. He missed a potential championship winning birdie on the last and then made a double on the first playoff hole and didn’t recover. Oosthuizen also bowed out when he couldn’t make a birdie on the fourth playoff hole that would have kept his challenge alive.
A clearly emotional Johnson looked stunned. He wasn’t sure if he’d just won the British Open … or been hit by a bus.
The three Aussie challengers – Leishman, Day and Scott – all knew what had happed to them. They all looked absolutely devastated.
So Johnson ended up with the championship after shooting a 6-under 66. Runners-up Leishman (66) and Oosthuizen (69) also ended on 15-under.
Overnight leader Day (70) only managed two birdies all round (on 5 and 6) but dropped no shots and still had a chance to get into the playoff on the last.
He couldn’t manage the needed birdie on 18, a plight mirrored by his playing partner Jordan Spieth (69), who had the slightly added pressure of putting to remain a chance to be the first player since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win the year’s first three majors in succession. Day and Spieth finished on 14-under sharing fourth place.
Down to the unfortunate case of Adam Scott who had a challenge going and at one stage shared the lead after six unanswered birdies through 10 holes. The notoriously fitful putter was working well … until he missed a one footer. He dropped five shots in the last five holes, including going out of bounds on the “easy” last and ending with a double. No doubt with thoughts of the capitulation at Royal Lytham in 2012 running through his head, he looked a broken man.
Mark Hayes, tweeting from St Andrews for Golf Australia, made this heart wrenching observation: “Just met Scott after his round. Poor bloke was so brave and honest in presser, but his hands were shaking.”
But we all know Scott. In a few days, or weeks, he’ll come back out and put a positive spin on it all, and be back there again trying his best.
When you regroup and have another look, it wasn’t such bad result for Aussie golf … Marc Leishman T2 after his T5 last year, Jason Day T4 after dealing with crippling vertigo during the US Open just a couple of weeks back, Adam Scott another top 10 in a major, Marcus Fraser, Matt Jones and Steve Bowditch all in the top 30.
As an obviously bitterly disappointed Leishman said: “Mate, I’m happy. Don’t worry about that. I’ve just finished second in The Open.”
“Yeah, I could have won it, but … my perspective is a lot — well, it’s quite good at the moment.
“I can go home tomorrow and hug Audrey [his wife who survived a life threatening illness in April] and the boys and celebrate a little bit.
“It would have been nice to have a Claret Jug to drink out of to celebrate, but I’ll find something else.”
2015 British Open Final Round Highlights: Video2015 British Open Final Results