IRVING, Texas – Sports rarely stays on script.
If it did, Sunday’s bookend bro-mance would have ended with Jordan Spieth hoisting the trophy in his hometown event, just hours after Rory McIlroy scored his own emotional victory back home in Ireland.
McIlroy did his part, putting on a ball-striking show coming down the stretch at the Irish Open, roping fairway woods at the 16th and 18th holes on his way to a three-stroke victory, his first win in Ireland as a professional.
Spieth came up short. Well short.
The world No. 2 started the day two strokes off the lead in the day’s final group at the AT&T Byron Nelson, but bogeyed the third, fifth and eighth holes to make the turn five strokes off the pace.
He finished his day with a 4-over 74 and tied for 18th place, nearly equaling his best finish at an event he’s been attending, in one role or another, since he was a toddler.
“I almost matched my best finish in six starts here,” shrugged the crowd favorite who finished 16th when he was 16 years old at the Nelson in 2010.
But then moral victories did little to soften Spieth’s mood.
This was supposed to be a statement weekend for the world Nos. 2 and 3 following Jason Day’s masterpiece last week at The Players. The latter, McIlroy took care of his side of the exacta.
But choruses of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” were not intermingled with “The Eyes of Texas” late Sunday afternoon.
Instead, Sergio Garcia broke through for his first PGA Tour victory since the 2012 Wyndham Championship, edging 54-hole leader Brooks Koepka on the first extra hole after the hard-hitting American deposited his drive into a lake.
“Kind of stinks given I had a chance here at a hometown event,” Spieth said. “I haven't had great success here in the past. This was an opportunity, you can't win them all and certainly would have liked to have put on a little more of a display but, you know, just a tough day. Just an off day.”
To be precise, it was an off week for Spieth, at least tee to green. He ranked 55th out of 73 players in fairways hit (30 of 56) and managed to find just nine of 18 greens in regulation on Sunday.
For three days Spieth’s putter saved him, proving yet again that a solid short game can make up for even the most wanting ball-striking. But on Sunday that magic was absent.
It was a similar story for Koepka, who held a three-stroke lead at the turn but bogeyed Nos. 14 and 15 to slip into a tie.
“I really didn't have much the last 36 holes,” conceded Koepka, who closed with a 71 after posting rounds of 65-64-65. “I had no idea where the ball was going and you can't play out here when you're hitting it in the rough. You kind of play defensively. That's not really what you want.”
It would only make sense that Garcia would emerge from a crowded leaderboard that at one point on Sunday included six players tied for second place two strokes off the lead.
The Spaniard is among the game’s perennial best ball-strikers and his putting, which at times in his career could best described as suspect, was surprisingly consistent.
Garcia, who played his first professional event at the Nelson in 1999, won the tournament in 2004 and recorded his first Tour victory just down Interstate-30 at Colonial in ’01, has always had an affinity for the Tour’s Texas swing and his victory at the Nelson will be defined by his resilience.
Following bogeys at Nos. 2 and 4 to drop three strokes off the pace, Garcia birdied three consecutive holes starting at No. 5 to remain in the hunt.
The closing loop was even more of a grind, with not one but two shots into the water at Nos. 11 and 14, but he birdied the par-5 16th hole and moved into a share of the lead when Koepka dropped his third shot of the day at No. 15.
“That meant a lot the way I played coming down the stretch, it looked like he was 17 [under], I was going to be 14 [under] after 14 [holes] and to have a chance at the end it was nice,” Garcia said.
It didn’t have the emotional pull of McIlroy’s victory at The K Club, and one can only imagine Spieth’s demeanor had he finally solved his Dallas dilemma; but Garcia’s victory was not without a noticeable degree of satisfaction, as evidenced by his fist pump after putting out for par in the playoff.
“I've always said it, every win, doesn't matter even if you're playing in your backyard with friends, winning is always tough and winning here on the PGA Tour is probably the toughest,” El Nino said. “The fields nowadays, they're so much deeper than they ever were and it's so much harder to win. Every time you get one of these ‘Ws’ it's very special.”
It wasn’t the storybook finish one could have crafted, there was no tidy synergy that would have made Sunday a sentimental slam, but after nearly four years of near misses and narrow losses Garcia’s victory qualifies as a good story even if it didn’t stay on script.