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American Zach Johnson Wins British Open In Historic 3-Way Playoff

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Jordan Spieth had a chance to make history in today's final round of the British Open, but then the chance was gone. Spieth's fellow American, Zach Johnson, won a three-way playoff - a playoff that did not include Jordan Spieth. Joining me to talk about this is Ron Sirak of Golf Digest.

Welcome back to the program.

RON SIRAK: Thanks for having me back, my pleasure.

SIEGEL: We'll get to Zach Johnson in just a moment, but first, talk about how close Spieth came to winning the year's first three major tournaments.

SIRAK: Well, this was a remarkable effort on his part. You know, he doesn't turn 22 years old until next week, and he's trying to do something that's only been done once in the history of golf. Ben Hogan in 1953 is the only man to win the Masters, the U.S. Open and British Open in the same year. And Jordan Spieth came within one stroke of getting into the playoff today, and he had a good putt at it on 17 that could've got him there. And the fact that he stood up to the pressure, that he handled the magnitude of the moment, is truly remarkable for such a young man.

SIEGEL: Well, let's turn to the man who won, Zach Johnson. How did he do it?

SIRAK: Well, you know, Zach is a tremendous short game player. He's one of the best wedge players in the game. He won the Masters in 2007. He's somebody who has the temperament to win major championships. He stays cool, he stays calm. And eventually, you know, he did it by, when they went into the playoffs, he birdied the first two holes of the four-hole playoff and that pretty much put it away.

SIEGEL: While it's hard to imagine a golf fan not enjoying more golf with a playoff, which we had today, sports writer Dan Wetzel of Yahoo tweeted that with Spieth gone, it felt like a playoff - I'm quoting now - "between vanilla, vanilla bean and French vanilla."

Was that a vanilla feel to you in that three-way playoff?

SIRAK: No playoff is ever vanilla, you know? You know, it's always exciting. Did we want Jordan Spieth in the mix? Absolutely. You know, you always want the best story to be involved in the last chapter of the story, but no playoff is ever - particularly when you're having a playoff at the home of golf, at the Old Course at St Andrews.

SIEGEL: I mean, everyone celebrates playing the British Open at St Andrews when it rotates around the courses and is there at this birthplace of golf. On the other hand, this was a course where people drive the ball onto other fairways to avoid bunkers. It's a place where there were 40-mile-per-hour winds at one - it was moving the ball, the wind. And torrential rains coming down. This is a great golf course?

SIRAK: I mean, how odd is it that beginning of the second round was delayed by flooding, and the end of the second round was delayed by 60-mile-an-hour winds. St Andrews is an acquired taste, no question about it.

SIEGEL: Going into today's final round of the British Open, there was a very surprising golfer in the last group - meaning, tied for the top - and that was an amateur Irishman named Paul Dunne. Describe what he accomplished there.

SIRAK: Yeah, you know he's a - plays college golf at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. He represents the new wave of talent that's out there. There was, at one point, three amateurs in the top seven on the leaderboard today in the final round of the British Open, and (laughter), all of those amateurs, including Dunne, are older than Jordan Spieth, who should still be in college. I think it speaks very, very well to the level of talent that's out there right now.

SIEGEL: Ron Sirak, of Golf Digest, thanks for talking with us.

SIRAK: Thanks for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.