For 12 1/2 holes on Sunday during the final round of the 146th Open Championship, Jordan Spieth was nearly unrecognizable, hitting wild shots and missing short putts in a freefall that saw him lose the lead he forged over the first three days at Royal Birkdale.
Then he gathered himself and made a bogey after his most wayward shot of the round. And just like that, a switch flipped for Spieth -- he played the next four holes in five under par and posted a 1-under-par 69 to capture a three-shot victory over fellow American Matt Kuchar in Southport, England.
Spieth, who turns 24 on Thursday, finished at 12-under 268 and won his third major championship after victories in the Masters tournament and the U.S. Open in 2015. He is the youngest player ever with three major championship victories.
Spieth produced a birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie run on holes 14 through 17 after bogeying the 13th and falling a stroke behind Kuchar. The 39-year-old Kuchar fought gallantly throughout, making two birdies down the stretch, but had to settle for runner-up after a 69 in the final round.
"I really don't know how we got the job done," Spieth said. "This was eventful -- I would have taken 17 pars and a birdie to get this done, but there are a lot of roads to the finish. I showed a lot of resilience to be able to get some of those putts to go in when I just didn't feel like it was working today. Once they started to go, the roof was off and the gain was huge."
This was Kuchar's best-ever finish in a major and his fourth career major top-5. In the past year, he has earned both an Olympic bronze medal and The Open's Silver Salver as runner up.
"It's crushing; it hurts -- and it's an excitement and a thrill to have played well, put up a battle, put up a fight," Kuchar said. "You work so hard to get to this position. And to have a chance to make history and win a championship. You don't get that many opportunities. To be this close, to taste it with five holes to go, it's a hard one to sit back and take.
"However, thinking with five holes to play, I played the next four in 2-under par. However, I lose two shots in those four holes to Jordan. So I can only control what I do, how I play."
Haotong Li of China finished alone in third place at 6 under after a 63 on Sunday but Li was the only golfer who made a significant move up the leaderboard in the final round. Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland (67) and Rafael Cabrera-Bello of Spain (68) finished another stroke back and tied for fourth.
England's Matthew Southgate (65), Australia's Marc Leishman (65), Alex Noren of Sweden (67), Branden Grace of South Africa (70) and current U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka of the United States (71) were an additional shot in arrears in a five-way tie for sixth.
Spieth started the day three up on Kuchar and was still two shots ahead until the ninth hole, when he bogeyed after Kuchar birdied in a two-shot swing.
Spieth had four bogeys in the first nine holes created by a combination of poor shots and uncharacteristic misses on short putts. Meanwhile, Kuchar kept grinding, carding two birdies and two bogeys on the front nine to make the turn where he began at 8 under.
"It was more difficult to win today that it probably even looked and it probably looked pretty difficult," Spieth said. "In past majors when I've been in contention I've started so strong and it's been about holding onto that start. This was just a completely flipped switch, where I started horribly."
The two were tied after the 12th hole and Kuchar's drive on the tough, long par-4 13th hole landed in the right rough but was relatively worry-free. Spieth then uncorked one of the wildest drives in Open Championship history, sending a shot 80 yards to the right of the fairway that came to rest on the back side of a 40-foot tall grass dune.
From that unlikely spot, and after more than 25 minutes of rulings, machinations, attempts to move the gallery out of his intended ball path and a drop on the driving range, Spieth managed a bogey to Kuchar's routine par, falling out of the lead for the first time all week.
"That five was massive," Spieth said afterward. "I was able to (drop) on the driving range and get the ball up near the green to find a way to make a five when I was staring at six or seven and out of the tournament. That was a momentum shift and I had to believe that."
Spieth followed up his adventure at the 13th with a stunning shot on the par-3 14th that nearly rolled into the hole, but resulted in a birdie that again pulled him into a tie with Kuchar, who parred.
Then Spieth made the perhaps the shot of the tournament, rolling in a 63-foot putt for eagle on the par-5 15th. After Kuchar's birdie with a short putt, Spieth had regained a one-shot lead as the duo headed to the 16th tee.
That turned the tournament into a four-hole, match-play competition between the two.
"Jordan is a great champion and certainly played that way in the finishing stretch today," Kuchar said. "It was impressive stuff when a guy does something like that. All you can really do is sit back, tip your cap and say, 'well done.' And it was certainly a show that he put on."
NOTES: Current Masters champion Sergio Garcia of Spain shot a 72 in the final round to finish tied for 37th at 2 over ... Hometown favorite Tommy Fleetwood, who had to shoot a 69 on Friday during the tournament's worse condition to make the cut, shot a 70 on Sunday and finished tied for 27th. ... Defending champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden shot even-par 70 in the final round and finished tied for 11th at 3 under. ... There were 25 under-par rounds recorded on Sunday, led by Haotong Li of China's 63. ... World No. 1 Dustin Johnson ballooned to a 77 on Sunday -- the worst score in the final round -- and finished tied for 54th.