By Michael Scavendish

For 12 holes and a shot, American Jordan Spieth lived every golfer’s nightmare.

His three-shot lead in the British Open over veteran Matt Kuchar had slipped to one after two holes and was gone at the turn. Then, on the 13th hole, Spieth sliced his tee shot so far right of the fairway that he took a drop.

Spieth was taking a penalty stroke for an unplayable lie and was going to fall behind here, and 15 months after blowing a five-shot lead on his epic-horrendous back nine at Augusta, it was happening all over again.

“As you can imagine thoughts come in from the last major when I was leading on a Sunday,” said Spieth. “Once I lost my lead completely and we were tied I felt the nerves go away until I got the lead again and they were back,” Spieth said.

Because, there behind a maintenance trailer and a sand dune, having to swing 3-iron blind at a green 230 yards over the hills and far away, Spieth started playing free for the first time all day. His ball sailed high and nestled in the first cut, a half-dozen yards below the green. A chip and a knee-knocking 8-foot, bogey-saving putt later, Spieth was one-shot back, but feeling alive.

After three and a half-rounds at the top of this oldest major, becoming the hunter instead of the hunted had liberated him. That’s when he went about slaying that Augusta demon, at least for today, fighting like mad not to be the guy who always coughs up major leads on Sunday. Jordan Spieth was this close to becoming THAT guy, and then he wasn’t. Turns out rock bottom can be a magic place.

A six-iron from the tee on 14 that nearly fell for an ace. Birdie. All tied up. He stalked a blasted drive on 15—always a good sign—then drained a nearly 50-foot eagle putt, and headed to 16 with a one-shot lead after Kuchar’s birdie.

The 16th brought a 25-footer for birdie for a two-shot lead, and the 17th a chip to 6 feet. Then, after Kuchar put the pressure on with a 15-footer for birdie there, Spieth dropped his nail-in-the-coffin 6-foot birdie putt. Even he wasn’t going to blow a two-shot lead on the last.

Finally, Spieth had this, out in 37, home in 32, the scariest, most roller-coastery, 1-under 69 this place has ever seen. “I don’t know why I can’t make it a little more boring,” he said when it was done.

The win gives Spieth his third major championship before the age of 24. Only Jack Nicklaus has done that.

For Kuchar, who is 39-years-old, the loss was crushing, especially after knowing how ugly things looked for Spieth on the 13th. The only consolation was Kuchar played holes 14 through 17 in 2-under, but lost to someone who rose from the dust to play them in five-under,

After the miracle shot from the wilderness, Spieth apologized to Kuchar for the delay, bumping fists with a player beloved and hugely respected in the pro golf locker room. Then golf shots resumed, including that massive Spieth bogey-saver from just beyond safe range. And then it was off to those final five holes, where Spieth’s destiny was headed in one of two very different directions.

On the way caddie Michael Greller told Spieth the bogey putt on the 13th had created a momentum shift—in their favor. He might have been the only one of the tens of thousands at Royal Birkdale thinking that at that moment.

“I was so confident and the wheels had kind of come off,” Spieth said. “So how do we get back on track to salvage this round? It took a bogey.”