Spieth's epic chip, an underrated Travelers event converge for golf's high point of 2017

CROMWELL, Conn. -- Golf wunderkind Jordan Spieth gave his sport its highlight of the year and one of its best celebrations ever thanks to his unthinkably smooth, birdie-making greenside bunker chip-in to take the 18th-hole playoff over Daniel Berger in the Travelers Championship on Sunday afternoon.

"Obviously, that was one for the ages," Spieth said. 

One that we may never see the likes of again. Spieth's shot popped up from behind the grassy wall and happily bounced a few times before strolling into the cup. Connecticut quaked in response. This is what wins the tournament. In a playoff. 

"I mean, the ground was shaking it was so loud," Spieth said. 

Spieth finished 12-under in regulation with the birdie from beyond giving him a 10th PGA Tour victory at age 23. It came in a more memorable sequence than he could have envisioned. With this trophy, Spieth is the second golfer since World War II to win at least 10 PGA Tour events before his 24th birthday. Tiger Woods, of course, is the other (15). 

The title vaults Spieth back to the front of the line for validation as the best golfer in the world. And this win, at this venue, in his first appearance at TPC River Highlands, gives birth a long-awaited mainstream moment for one of the PGA Tour's most underrated events. 

Spieth has been a baby-faced, fairly quiet, even-keeled superstar in his ascendance to the top of the golf world over the past two-plus years. An affable guy, but not one overflowing with personality, Spieth hasn't necessarily had a defining trait or selling point when it comes to his appeal (outside of his talent). Sunday changes that. It's not just his drama-soaked win, it's how he pulled off a rarity -- a chip-in on a playoff hole from the sunken sand trap! -- and how much of his high-spirited side he displayed. 

"I don't know if I'll ever have a moment like that again," Spieth said. 

The moment, maybe not. The reaction? Hopefully Spieth keeps that option in his bag permanently. Spieth's club-chucking, boisterous explosion of disbelief against the backdrop a wall of sun-soaked fans was great theater. And it gave us a new, fun, fantastic look at one of the true few players who will be asked to carry golf for the next two decades. Let's see more of this side of Spieth because it's some of the best of what golf has to offer. 

The grassy amphitheater at River Highlands (what a scene!) exploded into a frenzy after a drunken chorus of get-in-the-hole! bros actually saw their wish come true. Spieth's winner automatically logs as the defining moment in golf this year. It's just as much about the shot as it is the reaction. 

How often do we get something this spontaneously uproarious in golf outside of a Ryder Cup? Once a year ... if that? And how often does a finish like this feature a superstar in the sport? Twice a decade? 

"I felt more comfortable in the bunker than I did from 4 feet," Spieth said.

I'd think he was lying except he'd been in the bunker 15 minutes prior and came close to holing out on that shot, which would have won the Travelers in regulation. Guys this God-given good don't forget their shots when given a second chance, and how to take advantage of them. Spieth's winner was part luck, mostly feel, and some combination of wiring in his brain that allowed him to coolly launch that ball from a bed of sand while thousands held their breath in his backswing. 

"I was in there in regulation, knew it was the place to be," Spieth said. "For it to actually kind of spin in, I went and jumped up and saw it kind of spinning towards the middle of the hole and I'm like, no way. I'm looking at it like there's no way. It hit and went in, and I lost my mind."

The 10-second sequence is an unforgettable one. The ball rolls in, and then, simultaneously, Spieth flings his lob wedge -- a la Jose Bautista -- while caddie Mike Greller flips the bunker rake over his head. What followed was a golf aberration: a perfectly-executed celebration. Spieth and Greller instinctually went shoulder-bump and made golf seem like the most fun sport in the world. 

Golf can be pretty damn fun, but the dichotomy lies in how Spieth wound up in that spot. He wound up in the playoff after he dumped his ball in the same bunker on 18 in regulation. The playoff brought some divine interference for Spieth as a shot that was zooming left smacked a tree and jutted into the fairway. From there, Spieth went 5 iron, but it wasn't enough. He cushioned it into the sand again. 

No problem. To get the great moment in golf, you sometimes need something to go wrong. Spieth's error begat his historic shot, the 271st he took this weekend.

"I think I tossed my wedge not even like tomahawk, like from the shaft tossed it," Spieth said. "I don't know if it was in the bunker or the rough or where it went. And Michael, I was actually a little surprised by jubilation from Michael. I looked over, I think he had kind of turned around and like screamed. Normally, he'd just kind of have his hands up or something, right? He's more reserved. He was screaming, and it made me want to scream louder, and then he jumped. And fortunately, we didn't like high-five jump. We both went kind of for the little side bump. But it was cool."

It was cool, right? Not awkward. Jordan Spieth, the newfound arbiter of cool golf? That's almost as surprising as his winning shot. 

Golf saw perfect convergence on Sunday, and the long-underrated Travelers Championship is getting a spotlight it deserves. The tournament is held annually the week after the U.S. Open, meaning it's not prone to bring an abundance in big-name golfers, despite the fact that some of the sport's biggest stars have won here over the years (Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson).

Despite the obstacles, it's become one of the more well-attended events on the PGA Tour; Spieth remarked how closely it resembles Phoenix's Waste Management Open, which uses its massive crowds and open unruliness as a unique selling point vs. other spots on the tour.

Travelers hit big in 2017 by bringing in Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy. The Ulsterman said Sunday that he'll definitely be back. The fact Spieth won in his first appearance here, the way he did, is beyond movie-making creativity.  

"What a tremendous last four holes, finishing holes, where you can get the crowd super involved with an amphitheater setting," Spieth said. "I mean, if I were a fan, I would pick this tournament. This one and Phoenix is kind of two that stick out to come to on the PGA Tour season, just given the excitement of the closing holes."

Spieth is already considering real estate options. 

"I'm probably gonna buy a house here because I'm coming back, absolutely," he told the crowd. 

Spieth's the third wire-to-wire winner in this event's history. This is his second wire-to-wire to win on American soil -- the other being the 2015 Masters. And it's the first time Spieth's taken a tournament title in his first appearance at a course.  

"He embraces the lead," Greller said afterward, on the green, rake in hand. "He loves that spot."

Greller kept the rake for himself. He's taking it home. It's a memento of a monumental moment. A forever video: Spieth's club went one way, the rake another, and the sound of the crowd encircled them both. 

"That was as loud [a roar] as I think I've ever created," Spieth said. 

Said the guy who has a Masters and U.S. Open along with seven other tournament wins to his name. 

It's an all-time ending, something we'll see on Spieth's personal highlight reel forever. His history-making win came in the best way. Not just in a playoff or with a chip-in closer; it gives golf an image to promote both Spieth's generational talent and his youthful energy.

We've never seen him quite like this. And Spieth's first trip to the Travelers will not be his last. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning senior writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his ninth season reporting on college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories