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Spieth's 2015 a major turning point

HE came up short at Whistling Straits but Jordan Spieth's 2015 has been one for the ages.

WHILE Jason Day is celebrating his first major victory, Jordan Spieth is revelling in his first week as golf’s World Number One.

Before the year had even begun, former World Number One Rory McIlroy was the talk of the golf world. Would he complete his career grand slam at Augusta in April?

However, almost from the end of round one at this year’s Masters Jordan Spieth had turned the conversation in his favour. After the young Texan went on to triumph at Chambers Bay, suddenly it was he who was chasing not just a career grand slam, but the elusive Grand Slam.

The pursuit of the latter was ended when Spieth missed out on the playoff at St Andrews by one stroke.  The then 21-year-old settled for T4 with Australia’s Jason Day.

Coming into the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, Spieth was aiming to achieve what only two professional golfers have ever done – win three majors in a season.

McIlroy’s unfortunate football injury in June also opened the door for Spieth to claim the World Number One status. Spieth went a step closer to that by winning his second John Deere Classic, the tournament he won as a rookie in 2013.

Many criticised Spieth for committing to the John Deere instead of spending more time preparing on links-style courses ahead of The Open at St Andrews.

Some of that criticism subsided when another player who teed-it up at TPC Deere Run with Spieth went on to lift the Claret Jug – Zach Johnson.

Of course, Spieth wasn’t able to win the Rodman Wanamaker trophy either after finishing second, three shots behind Day but a 17th place finish by McIlroy confirmed Spieth as the newest World Number One.

Even though he won low-amateur at the US Open three years ago, the rise of Spieth to the top of the men’s game seems unfathomable.

When he won the John Deere in 2013, courtesy of holing out from a bunker via the flagstick on 18, he earned himself a PGA Tour card for two years and an invitation to the 2014 US Masters. 

In his Masters debut that year, Spieth was paired in the final group with eventual winner Bubba Watson. 

The Texan led Watson by two strokes after a birdie on Augusta’s 7th hole, but three bogeys in the next five, while Watson picked up two shots, ended Spieth’s chances of being the first debutant to win the Green Jacket since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

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Once McIlroy won the British Open that year, the Northern Irishman became the pin-up boy of golf and went on an impressive run that included the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship at Valhalla.

When the Australian Open rolled around in November, McIlroy was defending the Stonehaven Cup and the public flocked to see a World Number One play in Australia for the first time since Luke Donald in 2011.

At the time, it seemed like McIlroy would be number one for the foreseeable future.

What we didn’t realise was unfolding at the time was a watershed moment in men’s golf. While Jordan Spieth was lifting the Cup, McIlroy languished at T15 following a score of 76 during the third round. 

Spieth’s final round 63 at The Australian in tough conditions even wowed McIlroy.

“You could give me another 100 rounds today at the Australian and I wouldn’t sniff 63,” McIlroy wrote on Twitter after the tournament.

“Well done [Jordan Spieth] very impressive.”

This year, then, quickly became all about Spieth.

That’s not to say McIlroy hasn’t had a tremendous year despite being cruelled by injury. He has already won three times in 2015 to add to top-10 finishes at Augusta and Chambers Bay.

All things considered, it would have taken an impressive purple-patch of form to dethrone McIlroy as the world’s top-ranked golfer.

And Spieth delivered.

"We don't play to take a week and just sneak by the cut and just get up early and tie for 35th," said Spieth after the PGA Championship. "Nobody really has that on their mind when they tee it up to begin a week.

"You want to feel the pressure that we felt today. That was fun. It was fun waking up today, knowing I've got another chance to win a Major.

"It's a thrill and I love being able to ride some momentum from the crowd."

Earlier this year at Augusta, his wire-to-wire victory was easily written into the annals of golf history.

His win at Chambers Bay may not have been as striking but it was far more dramatic.

On a course derided by pundits and fans alike, Spieth stayed firm and a three-putt by Dustin Johnson on the final hole, somewhat, handed Spieth the trophy. But Spieth earned his victory at Chambers Bay by being the determined and clever player that he is. 

While he was unable to clinch another major in 2015, Spieth came close with a T4 at The Open and 2nd at the PGA Championship.

Spieth was visibily happy at The Open as he congratulated good friend Johnson on his second major victory. At Whistling Straits he was just as humble in defeat, despite playing close to his best.

"Obviously this is as easy a loss as I've ever had because I felt that I couldn't do much about it," Spieth said after his round.

"That was the best I've ever seen [Jason] play."

Performances the level of Spieth in 2015’s majors haven’t been seen since Tiger Woods in 2000, when the former World Number One claimed three majors.

That year, Woods was 25. Spieth is still only 22.

While the majors are done-and-dusted, Spieth still has the opportunity to win one of the riches prizes in men’s golf – the FedExCup.

"This year isn't over. I've got a lot of big tournaments coming up," Spieth said.

In the FedExCup standings he has a huge lead over Day with four wins and 14 top tens. It may not be as illustrious as a major, but if Spieth can continue the form he has so far displayed in 2015, a FedExCup victory will only add to what will already be a riveting 2016.

"The four biggest [tournaments] are finished now until April. And when I look back, I'm just going to look back at those first two and be obviously extremely pleased," said Spieth.

Spieth entered 2015 as a hotshot, but he will exit 2015 with an aura that can only come with greatness.

"I accomplished one of my life-long goals and in the sport of golf," said Spieth.

"That will never be taken away from me now. I'll always be a No. 1 player in the world."

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