Jordan Spieth’s reputation as the best young golfer to emerge from America since Tiger Woods burst on to the scene 18 years ago was confirmed on Sunday when the 21-year-old streeted the field to claim the 2014 Australian Open.
Spieth, out of Dallas, Texas, where the wind blows long and hard, had no trouble coping with the gusty conditions at the Australian Golf Club in Sydney, producing one of the great final rounds in the championship’s long history – a flawless eight-under-par 63 which featured eight birdies and not one bogey.
His effort broke the course record by three shots and left the rest of the field, including Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy, gasping in his wake.
In the end, the Texan claimed the Stonehaven Cup – won multiple times by the likes of Palmer, Nicklaus, Player and Norman – by six shots from Queensland veteran Rod Pampling, who stormed home in 31 strokes to claim second place, and a berth in the 2015 British Open at St Andrews.
Spieth, who finished at 13-under, is the first American player to win Australia’s national title since Brad Faxon in 1993.
Afterwards, he seemed genuinely chuffed at his performance under final-day pressure, saying it was the greatest round he’d ever played.
“I didn’t think that round was out there,” Spieth told the Seven Network.
“But the putts kept going in there – I had a great time out there.
“It’s the best round I’ve ever played, no doubt and the best win I’ve ever had.
“To be able to spread out from the field is a pretty amazing experience.”
Scott, the world No.3 and pre-tournament favourite, opened brightly with a birdie but was brought undone by a double-bogey seven at the fifth when his tee shot found an unplayable lie under trees and, after taking a drop and one-shot penalty, he then hoiked his third shot to the other side of the fairway, again under trees.
That was him done for the afternoon, and he ended up finishing fifth, nine shots adrift of the marauding Texan.
World No.1 McIlroy, who started the day six shots back after a woeful third round, struggled to hole a putt of note and also was a non-factor on the final day.
Brett Rumford (70) showed plenty of grit to finished third at six-under, while Greg Chalmers (71) was fourth at five-under. Like Pampling, both won a berth at next year’s Open Championship.
Spieth played his first events on the US PGA Tour as a 16-year-old, and won the John Deere Classic – his one and only professional success – last year as a 19-year-old.
While he has long been considered the ‘Next Big Thing’ on the US Tour, his exacting standards and tendency to get down on himself when his game is less than perfect have served to hinder his progress. Because when his game is off, the angelic-looking man from the oil country down south can explode like a freshly-tapped geyser.
That was evident in this year’s Ryder Cup when, in a key singles match against Graeme McDowell on the final day, he jumped to a three-up lead after five holes and all was looking well with the world. Then McDowell ramped up the pressure, Spieth didn’t respond well and produced a few wonky swings and the match turned in the blink of an eye, the Northern Irishman running out a 2 & 1 winner.
By that stage, Spieth was muttering under his breath and looking like thunder.
The comparisons with Woods are by no means gratuitous.
Both men won the US junior amateur championship twice – the only players to triumph more than once.
Their physical similarities – beyond the colour of their skin – are striking. Both stand 185 centimetres and weigh 84 kilograms.
Both entered the pro ranks after glittering amateur careers and both set enormously high standards for themselves.
Spieth probably won’t know this but, in 1996, Woods made his first trip overseas as a professional to play the Australian Open at the very same place Spieth triumphed on Sunday – the Australian Golf Club.
Woods, however, had a late tee time on the opening day and – flummoxed by the tricky winds and handkerchief-sized greens – shot a seven-over-par 79, for a long time his worst score in pro golf.
While the prodigy recovered to finish tied for fifth, a long way behind eventual winner Greg Norman, he came to the realisation that his game – while perfect for the pristine conditions often encountered on the PGA Tour – needed some refinement if he was to be competitive under the more demanding weather conditions found in the UK and Australia.
Spieth’s maiden voyage Down Under, though, has been a vastly different proposition.
He came, he saw and he conquered – and such was the success of his trip, he vowed immediately to come back next year and do it all again.