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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

'Go get that': After Battle of Birkdale Jordan Spieth proves once again he is golf's Guy To Beat

British Open won, Masters demons conquered. Three legs of the grand slam complete, and all at 23

Spare a thought for Jordan Spieth’s party planner.

Tasked with arranging the American’s 24th birthday celebrations, four days after he clinched a first Claret Jug, in one of the most compelling finishes in major history? On you go, then. Try topping that.

At the close of play on Sunday, Spieth topped the leaderboard at Royal Birkdale and, when all is said and done, it feels as if he now sits proudly perched at the game’s summit, too.

For everything that the "Battle of Birkdale" gave us, Spieth reclaimed his title as golf’s Guy To Beat, irrespective of that fact Dustin Johnson still occupies the world No 1 spot or that Rory McIlroy has four grand slam victories to Spieth’s three. A staple member of the sport’s Fab Four going into the Merseyside major, the Teflon Texan appears to have gone solo. British Open won, Masters demons conquered. Three legs of the grand slam complete, and all at 23. In among the flurry of stats and broken records, that remains the standout: Spieth is 23 years old. Party hard.

READ MORE: 10 things you didn't know about British Open winner Jordan Spieth

“This day took more out of me than any day I've ever played golf,” Spieth said in the aftermath of a frazzled and fascinating final round. “Closing today was extremely important for the way I look at myself.”

Given what transpired, he should like what he sees. Spieth’s final five holes, lurching from hands on his head to bottom of a dune to behind the Titleist trucks and onto the practice range – potential Jean van de Velde territory – spoke to what sets him apart from the rest. That, when the pressure is at its highest, Spieth conjures his best.

The up-and-down on 13, almost holing his tee shot on 14, a 50-foot putt for eagle on 15 – “go get that” - birdies on 16 and on 17. The resolve and the resilience. Those are the intangibles that mark out Spieth as different to everyone else.

Even when questioning why he could not execute his shots, as he later conceded, why he sprayed left and flailed right, he found a way to win. Matt Kuchar went through holes 15 to 18 in two-under par. Spieth simply went through them better.

As Kuchar lamented as he sat alongside his conqueror in the scorer’s hut, pain etched across his face, “I got one-up with five to go. Jeez, you played some incredible golf from there.”

Incredible neatly sums it up. Spieth not only climbed out of the deepest of holes on 13, but he scaled a significant mental mountain as well. With his capitulation at the 2016 Masters still fresh in his mind, adding to the enormity of the task and to the tension on Sunday, he came through, proving he is a supreme fighter, an expert closer.

Of the past 10 times he has held a 54-hole lead, Spieth has got the job done all but once, at Augusta last year. That solitary blot on the copybook is what makes his British Open victory all the more impressive, much more so than if he had have breezed around Birkdale like he did the first three days. Spieth flailed but fought back. Pure grit and gumption dragged him through, at the same place Arnold Palmer was first celebrated in 1961 and then remembered again this year. Rather fitting, all in all.

READ MORE: Arnie's army, Seve's genius and other memorable moments from Royal Birkdale

Spieth will now be mentioned again alongside golf’s greats, squeezed between Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the youngest players to win three legs of the grand slam. Thus, he goes to Quail Hollow in two weeks’ time needing only the US PGA Championship to complete the set. The guy nicknamed “Golden Child” with all the most precious crowns in golf. Imagine.

The knock-on effect should be that Spieth’s win galvanises the rest. That McIlroy, Johnson, Jason Day et al view this as a gauntlet thrown down, as reason to take their game to another level. Just as Spieth did late on Sunday.

For now, the comparisons with distinguished predecessors are obvious, if not a little unfair, given Spieth’s final few holes contained a bit of Seve, a bit of Tiger and a bit of Jack to boot. But Jordan is his own man; an “absolute star” as McIlroy described him following an incomparable Sunday charge. Or as Nicklaus queried on Twitter as the drama unfolded, “is Jordan Spieth something else?”

Just like in 2015, Spieth has emerged once more as golf’s undisputed Guy To Beat. To use his vernacular, the challenge for the rest is to try and “go get that” back.