SILVIS, Ill. – Jordan Spieth called the bunker shot he holed on the 72nd at TPC Deere Run the luckiest shot of his life. His caddie, Michael Greller, jokingly said he blacked out.
Such is the life of wonderboy Spieth, the 19-year-old Texan whose rocket-like rise on the PGA Tour is a blur of brilliance. At the John Deere Classic, the legend of Spieth exploded.
Spieth’s five-hole playoff victory at the Deere made him the youngest PGA Tour winner since 1931. The PGA Tour’s newest member has secured his spot in the FedEx Cup Playoffs and is projected to debut in the top 20. He’s riding a jet to Scotland to play in the Open Championship. He’s in the Masters next year. He’s even in the conversation for this year’s President’s Cup.
“If I wasn’t balding before, I’m definitely after the playoff,” Spieth said, smiling.
Spieth outlasted a nine-time PGA Tour winner in Zach Johnson, who has lost a bit of hair, along with David Hearn, the 34-year-old Canadian who looked like the third wheel in this Sunday saga. Johnson, the local boy and defending champion who had 20 consecutive rounds in the 60s on this course, bogeyed the last hole of regulation to bring Spieth and Hearn back to life at 19 under.
Johnson looked like he had his 10th Tour title wrapped up when a chip shot from the behind the green hit the flagstick. He dropped to his knees and rolled over on his back in disbelief.
“I guarantee that goes in if the pin isn’t there,” Spieth said.
Hearn had two good looks at birdie on the third and fourth playoff holes (Nos. 16-17) but couldn’t convert. All three players hit their drives right off the tee on the fifth playoff hole (No. 18).
Heard, who had driven it in the right rough four times Sunday, pitched out first and came up well short of the green. Johnson, stymied behind a tree, hit a tree with his approach and found the water hazard.
Spieth, the last player to hit, backed off his shot twice before going back to the bag to get a 7-iron. Two weeks ago Spieth said he probably would’ve stuck with a more aggressive 8-iron cut shot. Instead, he hit a low 7-iron 130 yards and watched it run to the back of the green. A two-putt par resulted in a flurry of controlled fist pumps and a sigh of relief.
“I didn't know if I'd get my putter to the ball,” Spieth said of the last putt.
Spieth turns 20 in two weeks but there’s little about his game that looks young. In the media room, he’s calm and controlled. He answers questions with the ease of 20-year Tour veteran, adding in a considerable amount of charm. The man who shot three consecutive 65s to win here has “it” – that indescribable X-factor that comes once every generation.
Spieth began 2013 with no status on any tour.
“We started the year doing Thursday qualifiers to get into Monday qualifiers,” said Greller.
Spieth, who entered the week as a Special Temporary Member (meaning he could accept an unlimited number of sponsor exemptions), played the Deere on a sponsor invite. He has played in 16 PGA Tour events this season, making the cut in 12 and finishing in the top 10 a mind-boggling six times. He has won more than $2 million.
“He's an incredible talent to come on Tour at his age and have as much success as quickly as he has,” Hearn said, echoing the sentiments of just about everybody.
Spieth bogeyed his first hole Sunday to fall to 12 under and thought he’d be grinding out another top-10 finish. As he sat in the media room talking about all the luck that was involved in his historic triumph, those who have followed his recent journey knew all too well that Spieth didn’t just fall off the tractor to win the Deere. Those who stuck around in Silvis witnessed something special.
“I’m extremely pleased and a little worried about having only short sleeves going to Scotland,” Spieth said.
Perhaps something major awaits.