SILVIS, Ill. When 19-year-old Jordan Spieth tapped in a two-foot par putt Sunday on the fifth hole of a three-man sudden death playoff to win the John Deere Classic, his life as a golfer changed forever.
By recording his first PGA TOUR victory, Spieth, a rookie, not only became the youngest tour winner since 1911, he earned the final available spot in next week's British Open, the PGA Championship, next year's Masters and the upcoming 2013 FedEx Cup playoffs. Moreover, he secured his PGA TOUR status through the 2014-15 season, and received a check for $828,000, the winner's share of the tournament's $4.6 million purse.
"It hasn't hit me yet," Spieth told reporters when asked about the significance of his victory. "I'm not sure it will until maybe I wake up on the plane in a little while."
Spieth joined 27 other John Deere Classic contestants on the tournament's charter, which left Quad City International Airport for Edinburgh on Sunday night. They'll arrive mid-day Monday, rest up and play The Open Championship starting next Thursday. Among those on the jet were John Deere Classic contestant Scott Stallings, who started the day as first alternate for the British, and also became eligible when Phil Mickelson won the Scottish Open.
Spieth, who received a sponsor exemption into the 2012 John Deere Classic, thanked tournament director Clair Peterson for that opportunity without which he said this year's victory would not have been possible.
Meanwhile, defending champion and hometown favorite Zach Johnson and Canadian journeyman David Hearn lost in the playoff, but Johnson at least could take consolation in the fact that he'll be playing at Muirfield later this week. Hearn, 34, who missed a couple of short putts to win the playoff, isn't eligible for the Open Championship, and still is looking for his first PGA TOUR victory.
Spieth started the day trailing third-round leader Daniel Summerhays by six shots, Hearn by four and Johnson by three, with four other golfers ahead of him by at least one stroke. But Summerhays shot a 1-over par 72, Hearn a 69 and Johnson a 68, opening the door for Spieth, who carved out his third consecutive 6-under 65, punctuated by a miraculous if not downright lucky hole-out for birdie from the green side bunker on No. 18.
After Johnson bogeyed No. 18 in regulation, he, Hearn and Spieth were tied at 19-under after 72 holes. With charter passengers sitting in the terminal watching the festivities on CBS and, eventually, Golf Channel, the three embarked on a seemingly endless sudden-death voyage where no one seemed capable of resolving the matter.
The three men twice parred the difficult par 4 18th hole on the first two holes of the playoff and did so again on the par 3 16th and par 5 17th, also known as one of the more birdie-able holes on the course. When Johnson narrowly missed holing out a chip shot from behind 18 the first time around, he lay on the green, rolled onto his back and could only laugh in frustration.
When the threesome got to 18 for the third time, all hit their tee shots in the rough to the right and experienced tree trouble. Hearn punched out, leaving himself a pitch of approximately 60 yards. Johnson's ball was directly behind a large tree, and when he tried to hook it around the base toward the green, the ball wound up in the water, resulting in a bogey.
Spieth's second shot - the least affected by the trees - was right at the hole, landed on the green and rolled beyond the pin to the back edge. WhenHearn missed his short-ish par putt, Spieth merely had to two-putt to win - a result more easily written about than executed.
"I've never had a putt to win a [pro] tournament before," Spieth said. "Even the two-footer to tap in, I didn't know if I'd get my putter to the ball. So I looked a the hole, looked at the front of the cup, decided to let my hands do it, and watched it go in."
Johnson, who made only four bogeys all week, came oh-so-close to becoming the repeat winner so many spectators and fans wanted him to be.
"A great week," Johnson said. "Not many negatives at all. I made four bogeys. That's pretty good. I had my chances on the back side in regulation. I hit some really good shots and just didn't make anything." Next week, Johnson will make his 10th consecutive start in the Open Championship, with his best finish a tie for 19th last year at Royal Lytham & St. Annes following his victory at the Deere.
Spieth is the 19th player to make the John Deere Classic his first PGA TOUR victory, and the first to do so since John Senden in 2006. The win also makes Spieth eligible for PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year honors
Steve Stricker, the winner from 2009-2011, shot a final round 66 to finish tied for 10th, his seventh top 10 finish in 12 starts at the John Deere.
Amateur Patrick Rodgers, 19, of Stanford, who played on the 2011 Walker Cup team with Spieth, shot 2-under 69 on Sunday and finished in a tie for 15th. Rodgers received a sponsor exemption in 2012 and another in 2013.