Zach Johnson: A fitting win for a compelling Open Championship
Last updated on .From the section Golf
Zach Johnson's Open triumph capped a memorable championship that told us plenty about the future shape of the game of golf.
The 39-year-old American demonstrated that the majors are not the exclusive domain of a big-hitting younger brigade. We can also conclude that as Tiger Woods fades from relevance, Jordan Spieth has become the sport's biggest star.
All this in a period where there is a seemingly endless production line of young talent, plus proof that the game's most historic course remains a worthy major venue.
Here's what we have learned from the 144th Open Championship:
St Andrews survives the test of time
While the world's best players become fitter, stronger and more athletic in wielding their state-of-the-art equipment, the Old Course remains a relevant test of golf.
Its main defences are the elements and clever pin positions, but the alterations brought in ahead of The Open helped stiffen the exam paper faced by the players. There are potentially eight par fours that are a mere drive and a wedge, yet more often than not it still needed something special to pick up a birdie.
The inclement weather helped keep a lid on the scoring but this was still an unusually soft and receptive version of the Old Course. The R&A will have few qualms about returning in six years to celebrate the 150th Open.
There's still room for guile and touch at the top of the game
For four consecutive St Andrews Opens big hitters prevailed, as John Daly (1995), Tiger Woods (2000 and '05) and Louis Oosthuizen (2010) took home the Claret Jug. By contrast Zach Johnson is relatively short off the tee and anchors his success in a razor-sharp short game.
It makes a refreshing change to see this type of player succeed in one of the game's four biggest tournaments. It also sends a reminder to those not blessed with prodigious power that it is wiser to stick to your strengths rather than meddle with your swing in search of extra yards. Short-game experts such as Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell should be greatly encouraged by Johnson's victory.
Jordan Spieth is the best player in the world
You don't say? Of course he is. Just as he is about to turn 22, the young Texan can reflect on a year that has yielded the Masters and the US Open and a St Andrews debut that left him just a stroke shy of a play-off.
It was another immense display from Spieth who, for the most part, took on the Old Course with the wisdom of a veteran. His undoing was the naive four-putt on the eighth hole of the final round.
Had he properly realised the danger of going long with his first putt he would surely have emerged with a bogey four at worst. However, the way he responded with back-to-back birdies on the next two holes bore the hallmarks of a genuine champion. Then there was the birdie on the 16th to tie the lead and give himself a chance of a historic third major win in a row with just two holes to go. That, in itself, was a huge achievement.
Tiger is toast
That may seem a harsh call but there is little evidence to suggest that Tiger Woods is ready to return to the top of the game. This may prove a swing change too far for the 14-time major champion. If he couldn't make the cut at an Old Course where he has enjoyed so much success then he is seriously struggling.
Remember Woods came to Scotland telling us he was ready and confident after an encouraging performance at the Greenbrier two weeks earlier. He went through his usual mantra of telling us he could win, yet such utterances sound ever more delusional. This was the first time he has missed consecutive cuts in majors. It is a very long way back from his current ranking of 258 in the world.
Sergio and Dustin carry more scar tissue heading to the PGA
Sometimes you have to miss out on a major chance to learn how to win one. Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson surely must know what it takes by now, yet neither looks any nearer making the big breakthrough.
Both players possess the talent but neither appears to have the mentality to get the job done. Garcia was perfectly placed to surge through the pack last Monday and his peerless ball striking could have been a potentially decisive asset during the homeward battle into a gusty, chill wind. The Spaniard faded from contention in a depressingly familiar way.
There is no one better at starting majors than Johnson, yet he becomes a more inhibited figure during the closing rounds. The halfway leader at the Old Course seemed haunted by his US Open near-miss.
Next month he goes to Whistling Straits for a PGA Championship where more ghosts await. Five years ago Johnson should have triumphed but for grounding his club in a bunker to incur a two-shot penalty while holding a one-stroke lead. For redemption to come next month he will need to find an inner fortitude that was absent during the closing rounds at St Andrews.
Rory will return to a changed landscape
By the time Rory McIlroy comes back, Spieth will almost certainly have toppled him from the pinnacle of the world rankings. The chances are the Northern Irishman will be back in action during the PGA Tour play-offs in September.
By then Spieth might be a three-time major champion and even if he is not he will be regarded as the man to beat every time he tees it up. This was McIlroy's domain at the start of the year and watching how the 26-year-old reacts will become a fascinating new dynamic for the game.
Spieth is the real deal though and will win many more, I'm sure. I was impressed that he had hung around to congratulate ZJ at the end.
"He's still the sharpest, most accurate golfer in the world (despite a minor, temporary setback), and he has a great character and personality to match."
He can expect a call from Brendan Rodgers soon then.
Nah, there's already enough coverage of cheating chavballers falling over themselves and mouthing off to all and sundry without importing more of it.
"Yes, let's have more golf etc and less football, irrelevant to many of us."
I'm sure if they took football off of the screen we would miss all the spitting, foul language, abuse of the officials, play acting and bad sportsmanship :-)
I grew up playing for 3 football teams, now I wouldn't touch the game with a bargepole. I don't play golf but love watching it, more golf on TV please
What is fascinating is that, despite Spieth's recent performances, when it comes to the Majors, anyone can win.
And, yes, Tiger IS toast.
"The BBC wastes money on F1 and golf which would be better used improving the Football coverage to include the European Leagues in a separate programme."
Merely a dig at the laddish thuggish mentality that perpetuates football, we can't even get on a train without listen to overweight drunken morons singing their tribal songs.
The point is, most people don't want more football on TV
'Only a double bogey on the 8th prevented Spieth from being our champion?'
You can't assume that if he had made par that all the rest of the shots played by him and other players would have been the same. Players react to the leader board at that stage.
Great player that he is, it is a lot to expect someone to win 3 in a row, esp with 50 odd players being capable of winning.
So your argument is, if, but, what if?? Really
If Poulter had played better he could have won the first three, but alas, he is garbage so he didnt.
I would argue that definitely warrants some mention within a golf column.
Gonna be a great match up though.
"He's still the sharpest, most accurate golfer in the world (despite a minor, temporary setback), and he has a great character "
So your definition of a guy with a great character is someone who engages in marital affairs.
Good riddance to the loser - he is history. Not sure why he even turns up these days, he is like the guy you invite to a dinner party to make up the numbers
you say 'every golfer on the planet knows this' then refer to people who don't know this (presumably golfers) contradicting your point. Its the open. If it were consistent with its US counterpart wouldnt it be referred to the UK Open? Twaddle ypu speak.