The calendar still says 2016, but three-time USGA champion Jordan Spieth is hoping his performance last weekend in Australia will be a harbinger of great things to come in 2017.
Spieth won the Emirates Australian Open for the second time in three years on Sunday at Royal Sydney Golf Club, this time in dramatic fashion. The 23-year-old from Dallas, Texas, rolled in a 15-foot birdie on the first playoff hole to edge Australians Ashley Hall and Cameron Smith for the title. Hall had a chance to extend the playoff – Smith missed a long birdie attempt – but pushed his 10-footer right.
This could be the kind of victory that propels Spieth, currently No. 5 in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR), to a bounceback 2017 season. Two years ago, the 2009 and 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur champion won the Australian Open by six strokes over Rod Pampling by closing with a 63 and then went on to claim the 2015 Masters and U.S. Open, and was the runner-up to Jason Day in the PGA Championship. He also missed the playoff by one stroke at the Open Championship on the Old Course at St. Andrews.
“The way we played the playoff, I think it's going to do wonders for me,” said Spieth, whose last victory came in May at the Dean & Deluca Invitational at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. “I've been in a bit of a stall hitting the shots when they mattered. To hit those two shots in there right where I wanted to hit them and then to make the putt is really big going forward and it's something I can draw on all next year.”
Spieth got into the playoff at 12-under 276 by rolling in a long birdie putt on the par-5 16th hole and then made pars on 17 and 18, the latter a 10-footer.
The final round began with 2006 U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy holding the lead, but the 39-year-old Australian faltered with a double-bogey 7 on No. 16 and shot a 73 to finish two strokes back.
Smith, who finished tied for fourth in the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, and Hall didn’t leave Royal Sydney empty-handed. They qualified for the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale as part of the Open Championship Qualifying Series along with 1998 U.S. Junior Amateur runner-up Aaron Baddeley, another fellow Australian.
Two reigning USGA amateur champions also had fine showings at Royal Sydney. Curtis Luck, who won the U.S. Amateur at Oakland Hills Country Club in August to secure a 2017 U.S. Open exemption, finished tied for 11th at 7-under 281 and earned low-amateur honors. He opened the championship on Thursday with a 67 and followed with rounds of 71-74-69.
Min Woo Lee, who won the U.S. Junior Amateur in July at The Honors Course and is the younger brother of 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Minjee Lee, finished with a 4-over 75 to tie for 35th. A second-round 67 had put Lee in a tie for ninth through 36 holes.
Big Day for Jutanugarn, Chun
Ariya Jutanugarn, who won five times in 2016, didn’t hoist the trophy in the season finale on Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Fla., but the 2011 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion secured the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the season money title and the Race to the CME Globe, which netted the 20-year-old from Thailand a $1 million bonus.
Jutanugarn entered the week in a close race with world No. 1 and 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Lydia Ko for the season’s top awards. Ko, 19, of New Zealand, carded a course-record 62 on Friday to take the 36-hole lead, but she could not better par in the ensuing two rounds and slipped to a tie for 10th.
“Coming into this week, I really didn’t know what was going to happen,” said Ko. “Definitely great to shoot my … career low on Friday. I tried to battle it out on this back nine [on Sunday]. I’m proud of that.”
Jutanugarn, meanwhile, recovered from an even-par 72 in the first round to shoot 68-65-69 to finish tied for fourth at 14-under 274, five strokes behind winner Charley Hull, of England.
“Winning player of the year is huge for me,” said Jutanugarn after bettering Ko by 11 strokes over the weekend. “I’m very, very happy about that.”
Ko also just lost out on the Vare Trophy for the lowest single-season scoring average by one stroke to 2015 U.S. Women’s Open champion In Gee Chun, of the Republic of Korea. Chun carded a final-round 70 for a 13-under total of 275 and solo seventh finish. Grouped with Ko on Sunday, Chun, the LPGA’s Rolex Rookie of the Year, made a birdie putt from about 12 feet on the final hole to just edge Ko for the scoring title.
“It was a big honor for me because I will have my name next to legends,” said Chun, who became the first player since Nancy Lopez to win the Rookie of the Year and Vare trophies in the same season. This honor came on the heels of her victory in the Evian Championship, the year’s final major, and six top-five finishes.
2011U.S. Women’s Open champion So Yeon Ryu battled Hull for the title, but came up two strokes short despite a final-round 67. Ryu posted four sub-70 scores and closed the year with three straight top-five performances.
“This is the first time I feel like I wish I could play more tournaments,” said Ryu. “I think it’s really a great thing. Finally, I felt like I’m completely ready to just win the tournament. I hope I can have this feeling going into next year.”
Jennifer Song, the 2009 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links and U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, finished in third at 15-under 273. It was her best finish of 2016, bettering a tie for 14th in the ShopRite LPGA Classic in June.
Another Win for Fitzpatrick
Matthew Fitzpatrick, of England, closed the 2016 European Tour season in style by winning the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. The 2013 U.S. Amateur champion closed with a 5-under 67 to claim his third European Tour title – and second of the year – by one stroke over countryman Tyrrell Hatton. Fitzpatrick claimed his maiden title in the 2015 British Masters and won the Nordea Masters in June. That helped the 2013 Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup competitor qualify for his first European Ryder Cup team in September.
“I just did everything really well and putted out of my shoes,” said Fitzpatrick of his prowess on the greens this past weekend. “It was fantastic all week and I think that’s where I gained on the field.”
Henrik Stenson, of Sweden, won the season-long Race to Dubai points chase over Danny Willett. Rory McIlroy, the 2011 U.S. Open champion, finished fifth, one spot ahead of Fitzpatrick.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.