CROMWELL, Conn. -- If the tournament wasn't dead, it was at least on life support. The event that started in 1952 as the Insurance City Open and was later rechristened as the Greater Hartford Open -- or simply GHO to the local folks -- was on the verge of extinction. Without a title sponsor, without financial backing, the 2006 edition was supposed to be the last. Maybe the powers-that-be could still salvage a senior event, but the good ol' days were ingloriously over.
Fast forward to Sunday afternoon and it has never been more alive. One of the game's biggest stars, drawn to the heart of Connecticut by the recommendations of fellow players, was aiming for a win. Massive, raucous crowds chanted his name, over and over: "JOR-DAN SPIE-EEEETH, JOR-DAN SPIE-EEEETH!" They even broke into the wave behind the 18th green.
And when Spieth's blast out of the front greenside bunker in a playoff landed short of the hole and trickled dramatically into the cup, it was pandemonium. He threw his lob wedge. His caddie, Michael Greller, chucked the bunker rake. They chest-bumped. The gallery collectively yelled a loud, echoing, joyful yell that lasted for minutes. Even when it died down, the goosebumps remained.
What a difference a decade makes.
The history books will forever note that this tournament became the Travelers Championship in 2007, saved by an 11th-hour sponsorship, and has been continuously contested ever since. That technically is correct, but on the silver trophy that Spieth was still clutching hours after the victory, there should be etched a line of demarcation that notes a tipping point this year, when it became something so much more.
Spieth and fellow top-10 talent Rory McIlroy each decided to play here for a first time; Jason Day joined for a third time. The atmosphere changed instantly. Tuesday practice-round galleries were like previous Thursday galleries, Wednesday pro-am galleries were like weekend galleries, and the weekend galleries were like nothing ever before witnessed here.
Of course, large crowds aren't as impactful without something for which to cheer. The 23-year-old Texan held those duties from the start. He opened with a 7-under 63, then remained overnight leader after the second and third rounds, culminating in a roller-coaster final act that won't be forgotten anytime soon.
One year after Jim Furyk posted the first 58 on the PGA Tour in the final round, Spieth was after a little history of his own. Only Tiger Woods had claimed a double-digit win total before the age of 24, but Spieth's odometer had been stuck on nine since February.
What appeared possible entering the day quickly seemed probable, with Spieth carding birdies on his first two holes. Instead of a Sunday coronation, though, it turned into a fierce battle to hold off his fellow contenders. The player informally known as the world's best putter continued his tour-leading ball-striking prowess, but missed four putts inside of 10 feet.
By the time he reached the final tee, Spieth was tied with Daniel Berger. An up-and-down by Spieth from the bunker in regulation saved his par and forced a playoff. It also set up some of the best drama of the golf year so far.
Spieth had done this before -- sort of. Back in 2013, his rookie season, he holed a bunker shot to reach a playoff at the John Deere Classic, later winning his first career title on the fifth playoff hole. With apologies to those exploits, Sunday's near walk-off winner topped it.
"Boy, I mean, I really wish that I didn't make it exciting," Spieth said with a smile afterward. "The goal was boring golf. Play the way we played the first couple holes. Make a bunch of pars, maybe slip in another birdie or two, and cruise in, hit the green and 2-putt. Walk off. Day's work is done. I still wish I did it that way, but the way that it happened, sometimes you need a little fireworks. Next time I'll still be going for the boring golf route."
This one was anything but boring. It was the personification of how exciting a professional golf tournament can be when everything comes together -- elite players in contention, drama at the end, frenzied galleries throughout.
During the trophy presentation on that final green, with Spieth standing just a few feet away from where his bunker shot had tumbled into the hole, he was asked whether he'd be making a return trip to this event next year.
"I'm probably going to buy a house here, because I'm coming back," he said to a still-buzzing crowd that hadn't yet left for the exits. "Absolutely."
The tournament that was once pronounced dead came back to life years ago, but thrived this week, thanks to a talented star with a flair for the dramatic. One who can't wait to do this all over again.