The chasing pack formed like seagulls waiting for a dropped chip on the Fife Coastal Path at the start of round four. For the second successive morning, the course – softened by overnight rain – was at the mercy of the early starters who went off amid mild and calm conditions. Phil Mickelson got to 10-under, Luke Donald did the same and Andy Sullivan started with four birdies to get to nine-under. One by one the challengers drifted out to sea though as the Old Course bit back. Mickelson’s blow-up was the most spectacular of the lot – driving onto somebody’s balcony in the Old Course hotel to the right of the 17th for a triple-bogey seven.
The best rounds of the morning came from those who had simply too much to do – Brendon Todd’s 66 left him three adrift of the overnight lead and it was a similar story for the likes of Koepka and Kaymer – all will leave St Andrews rueing the few that slipped away over the course of the 72.
It was an entertaining first act but paled into insignificance as the stage cleared for the leaders. The weather Gods fancied a starring role too with the final few groups teeing off as the rain started. It did nothing to dampen proceedings, though. Irish amateur Paul Dunne was the last away and went off to rapturous applause before the realisation of the situation kicked in. His approach to the opener was a shocker, coming up just short of the Swilcan Burn, and bogey there was followed by another at two after a wild tee shot.
He was left to concentrate on the Silver Medal – which he eventually lost to Jordan Niebrugge –as the cream rose to the top to scrap for the Claret Jug. Seven men pulled clear, four of them major winners and six of them in the world’s top 25. The 2007 Masters champion, Zach Johnson, hit the front – going out in 31 and picking up seven shots in his first 13 holes. A chunked hybrid on 17 resulted in a bogey which looked like it might end his challenge before a dramatic birdie at the last gave him the clubhouse lead at 15-under. Adam Scott matched his fellow green jacket holder’s front nine before becoming another victim of the closing stretch – dropping five shots in his final five holes.
Scott is getting used to Open heartache and it was an all too familiar feeling for Sergio Garcia in the final round of a major as well. The Spaniard fist-pumped his way to 14-under before a couple of trips to the sand resulted in three straight fives on the back nine as another title slipped away.
The exception in Monday’s magnificent seven was Marc Leishman and what an exception. Having made the cut by one, the Australian powered his way to 16-under before a bogey on 16 – his first in 35 holes – saw him tie Johnson in the clubhouse.
Next came Jason Day and Jordan Spieth. Day, like Garcia, is making a habit of coming up short in majors and did so again here, parring his last 12 holes to miss out by a single stroke at 14-under. Spieth was one better than that with two to play after a monster birdie on 16 had everyone talking about the ‘Spieth-slam’ once again. It has been a strangely inconsistent week for the American, though – 37 putts in round two and a double on the par three eighth today – so it seemed inevitable it would end in tears. He missed a seven-footer for par on 17 and failed to get the birdie he required at the last to tie the lead after his wedge from 102 yards spun back into the Valley of Sin.
That left Louis Oosthuizen as the only man who could force his way into the play-off picture and a couple of clutch putts on 17 for par and 18 for birdie saw him do just that. Like so many things this week, the play-off didn’t seem quite right somehow. No home favourite, no Jordan, no amateur after all and Ivor Robson, in this his final Open, having to come back for a second farewell call.
As in regulation, Johnson flew out of the traps in the four-hole decider, birdieing one and two to lead Oosthuizen – who birdied the first – and Leishman – who bogeyed it – by one and three respectively. The Australian’s bid was hanging by a thread as they stepped onto the 17th tee and by the time he had left the green his challenge was over – a second bogey dropping him back to two-over. Johnson made bogey too but the South African failed to take advantage as, seemingly for the first time today, his putter failed him – missing from six-feet to tie the lead. That saw Johnson head up 18 with his one-shot advantage intact. The American made a four at the last to hand Oosthuizen the chance to extend an Open that seemed destined never to end. It did there and then, though, as, Oosthuizen failed to convert from eight feet to hand the American his second major win.
What they said…
Phil Mickelson (USA, -7): ‘I felt like I played well. I had a fun week. Family was here two weeks, it was really enjoyable. I hit a lot of good shots, and it doesn't feel far off. I'm just not quite shooting the numbers yet, but the game feels pretty good. I'm striking it better than I have in a long time, and I got rid of one of the areas of weakness, which was a big slice off the tee. I've been able to eliminate that shot, and I think in the long run it's going to get better and better.’
Luke Donald (Eng, -9): ‘Solid week. You know, yesterday was disappointing to shoot 73 on a day when 68 was probably par. I just didn't hole the putts when I needed to. I played average and just didn't hole the putts when I had my opportunities. For me to be contending, I've got to putt extremely well for all four days.’
Ashley Chesters (Eng, -9): ‘It's been a great tournament. I think apart from the last three holes on the first day and the 15th today, I've not hit many bad shots -- I didn't really hit many bad shots on the 15th today, either, but yeah I've played really good this week, so I'm really happy.’
Adam Scott (Aus, -10): ‘I'm disappointed the way I played the last five holes for sure. I could have done a lot better than that. Yeah, it's a shame not to get in there and finish with a shot, that's for sure, but maybe it was too much to ask today.’
Justin Rose (Eng, -11): ‘I think all week I've been just one gear short. I've played well but I haven't had that sort of run or that real sort of shot in the arm where I felt like I've put a great round together. But yeah, progress. I'm happy. I can look back at this and think there's some positives for me to take. I changed putters this week, so that was a bit of an unknown coming into the week and that felt really good. I holed out really well from inside six feet this week, and I think that's something I can really build on for the rest of the year.’
Sergio Garcia (Spa, -11): ‘It's great. I love it. I love this tournament. I love these crowds. I love these courses. I'm just going to keep giving myself chances until things happen, and then hopefully I manage to win at least one of these. I would love to win a British Open. But even if I don't, the experiences I've had at these championships, they've been amazing, and nobody can take that away from me.’
Jordan Spieth (USA, -14): ‘I don't know how many guys have done three majors in a year. I'm sure there's only been a few. I know Tiger has done it, and I'm sure Jack has. I don't know that. So that would be the next goal as far as the history goes. Sights set on the PGA Championship, and from here I've got a couple weeks off now, and I'm going to go home and reflect on -- it won't hurt too bad. It's not like I really lost it on the last hole, and 17 was brutally challenging. I just didn't hit a great putt there, and I just picked the wrong wedge out of the bag on 18. I made a lot of the right decisions down the stretch and certainly closed plenty of tournaments out, and this just wasn't one of those. It's hard to do that every single time. I won't beat myself up too bad because I do understand that.’
Jason Day (Aus, -14): ‘I've been working very hard to try and accomplish my first major, and you know, it's a little frustrating with how it finished. But I've been in contention at major championships a lot now, and it just shows I'm doing the right things, and I can't look at it as a negative.’