By Ron Patey
Jordan Spieth officially turned into golf’s version of the human torch on Sunday when he defeated PGA Tour veteran Tom Gillis on the second playoff hole to win the John Deere Classic. Spieth’s fantastic fourth victory in 2015 sends him across the pond to Scotland as the odds-on favorite to capture a fabulous fifth title and third straight major this week at the 144th edition of the Open Championship on the Old Course at St. Andrews.
The red-hot 21-year-old Texan’s chances of claiming a second career triumph on TPC Deere Run did flicker a bit in the early going of the final round. He showed up on the 13th tee one-over on the day and four strokes out of top spot. Spieth returned to his scorching ways, making birdie at 13 and following with birdies at 14, 16 and 17 to force the playoff with Gillis. Both golfers made pars at 18 on the first extra hole before heading back to play it again. The second time around, Spieth settled in the fairway while Gillis landed in the right-side rough.
Gillis was faced with a juicy lie and had to hit a low screamer between trees in a bid to reach the green. The pulled shot got through nature’s obstacles, but bounced into a pond. The Michigan native was effectively done. Spieth’s approach left him with a no-sweat two-putt that he converted to give him five career PGA Tour titles since 2013.
Although Gillis came second, he did pick up a terrific consolation prize and early birthday present: a berth in the Open Championship. The last player invited to St. Andrews will tee it up for first round action on his 47th birthday.
Next On The Tee: The 144th Open Championship
The Rory McIlroy-Jordan Spieth showdown for the world rankings top spot is off the table due to McIlroy’s soccer misstep. But fans still have some delicious story lines to feast on this week. Rickie Fowler finished in a flurry at the Scottish Open on Sunday, making birdies on three of the final four holes to track down fellow American Matt Kuchar. He raised the event’s trophy hours before Spieth pulled off his winning comeback effort.
Fowler’s second big-time victory of the season mixes nicely with his earlier triumph at The Players Championship on TPC Sawgrass, proving he’s a major factor wherever he plays. It also counters a magazine poll taken earlier in the year that revealed other players consider Fowler to be the most overrated competitor on tour. Then there’s Fowler’s T2 in last year’s Open Championship, which could suggest that the Californian is right at home away from home on tracks in the United Kingdom.
Dustin Johnson heads to the home of golf looking to brush off the memories of those twitchy three putts on 18 at the U.S. Open that deprived the long hitter of his first major championship. Johnson hasn’t played since the Chambers Bay flameout, but does own a WGC-Cadillac Championship win to go along with two seconds in his seven top 10s during 14 starts this season.
Tiger Woods arrived at St. Andrews early and has proclaimed that the site of two of his 14 major championships (2000 and 2005) is playing slower and softer than before. Golf’s hallowed layout has received a lot of rain recently, and more dousing is expected just before the tournament. So Woods and the field can expect far less roll than they are used to when they make their club selections this time around.
The Old Course at St. Andrews plays 7,305 yards long and is a par 72.
Favorites: Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Louis Oosthuizen, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose
Players To Watch: Dustin Johnson, Tiger Woods, Hidecki Matsuyama, Matt Kuchar, Paul Casey
Ron Patey covered the golf industry for 21 years as a special sections editor with Sun Media. During the past five years, Patey has been a golf writer for Examiner.com.