Spieth conjures memories of the greats -- just don't compare him to anyone

Only Jack Nicklaus completed three-quarters of the career Grand Slam at a younger age than Jordan Spieth, who won the Open Championship on Sunday in dramatic fashion. EPA/ANDY RAIN

SOUTHPORT, England -- Don't compare Jordan Spieth to anyone else. Just don't do it.

That's a challenging assignment, considering what he just accomplished in winning the 146th Open Championship.

Spieth's great escape with bogey on a 13th-hole expedition -- already entrenched in major championship lore -- was a Houdini-in-handcuffs magic trick, part Seve Ballesteros, part Phil Mickelson. Spieth's near ace on the next hole evoked images of a links-worn Tom Watson, whose precision ballstriking yielded so many birdies at this event. Spieth's macho eagle on the next hole conjured memories of Tiger Woods, the dramatic flair conspiring with perfect timing.

And this victory makes Spieth, just four days shy of his 24th birthday, the second-youngest player ever to claim three legs of the career grand slam, behind only the legendary Jack Nicklaus.

But Spieth isn't Seve or Phil or Tom or Tiger or Jack.

Those are a lot of names from which to choose, but none fits.

"I don't compare myself, and I don't think that [comparisons] are appropriate or necessary," he explained after his 3-stroke triumph. "What those guys have done has transcended the sport. And in no way, shape or form do I think I'm anywhere near that, whatsoever."

Too often, the greatest players of the current generation are charged with living up to the reputations of past performers, which isn't fair for myriad reasons. Foremost among those is that a player such as Spieth doesn't own a full body of work yet. In fact, despite these three major victories, he's still in the infancy of his career.

Even among his current peers, it's hard to insist he ranks above all of them. Rory McIlroy still owns one more major. Dustin Johnson is ranked higher. Other players hit the ball farther than Spieth. Higher. Straighter. (OK, much straighter.)

They don't, however, have what he has.

Call it the "it" factor. That certain something. An extra gear.

"Those are the intangibles and the things I just don't understand," his buddy Zach Johnson, who stuck around to watch the conclusion, said. "He does it all the time."

Therein lies the difference between Spieth and everyone else. He owns an innate ability to win at all costs.

He has now prevailed on nine of the last 10 occasions when he's held a 54-hole lead. The lone outlier was, of course, last year's Masters, when a 12th-hole quadruple-bogey derailed his journey to a second straight green jacket.

At the time, it was believed that setback could have a lingering effect. Maybe he just wasn't programmed to put away titles. Maybe he's not a closer.

As it turns out, the scar tissue that developed from that day 15 months ago steeled him for a minor meltdown on Sunday afternoon, when his multiple-shot lead evaporated with just five holes to play.

And yes, it was in the forefront of his mind.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself, unfortunately, and not on purpose, before the round today, just thinking this is the best opportunity that I've had since the '16 Masters," he admitted. "And if it weren't to go my way today, then all I'm going to be questioned about and thought about and murmured about is in comparison to that, and that adds a lot of pressure to me."

There's a sense, though, that Spieth needs this pressure in order to thrive. He needs some adversity, needs to have his back against the proverbial wall.

He could've simply stiff-armed playing partner Matt Kuchar, his main competition, and kept an easy lead all day. The truth is, Spieth tried. "Boy, this was eventful," he joked after a final-round 1-under 69. "Seventeen pars and a birdie would have been fine, too."

Instead, he added another chapter to the story of his career, and this chapter might be studied years from now as a turning point.

Spieth could someday make a run at Woods' mark of 14 major titles, or even Nicklaus' record of 18. Or this could be as good as he gets, a young superstar shining in his early years.

There's no point in guessing, no point in any conjecture after such a thrilling win. Just as there's no point in comparing him to any of those past greats, anyone with whom he's already sharing pages in the record book.

Spieth should instead be celebrated in the present. He owns those intangibles that others don't. He plays his best when the pressure is highest.

Or as McIlroy succinctly put it, while watching Spieth put the finishing touches on his latest win, "He's an absolute star."