With 9 holes to go at Augusta National Jordan Spieth looked on course to win consecutive Masters titles and his 3rd major championship in 12 months. With 4 consecutive birdies on the final holes on the front 9 he established a 5 shot lead. Many thought the remaining 9 holes would be a coronation, with Spieth cruising to victory, what unfolded however was a capitulation of epic proportions.
By his own admission Spieth hadn’t produced his best golf all week, his ball-striking was inconsistent and his driving was errant, but Spieth who is renowed for his clutch putting managed to hold onto his lead by making key putts when he needed them most. There were signs throughout the week that Spieth was uncomfortable with his game, a sloppy finish on Friday cut his lead to one, and on Saturday after restoring a sizeable advantage he faltered late in the round playing the final two holes in 3 over par. Despite this, mentally he looked unflabbable, driven by sheer determination to win his 2nd Masters despite the obvious shortcomings in his game. But on the 12th hole it all caught up with him and the weaknesses were exposed in the most brutal fashion imaginable. Amen Corner which is notorious for its perilous and merciless layout had claimed another victim. Spieth arrived at the breathtakingly beautiful 12th at Augusta on the back of consecutive bogeys at the 10th and 11th, his lead had been cut to only a solitary shot. Despite the intense pressure few would have expected him to have folded under these circumstances, after all Spieth had demonstrated all week his ability to bounce back from bogeys and he has proven his competence at the highest level in this game with two major championships.
Spieth struck his shot aiming to play a fade, but long before the ball found the creek Spieth recoiled in digust, certain of the outcome. If Spieth could have mitigated the damage and salavaged a bogey or a double-bogey a recovery would have not been inconceivable, but he compounded his error by finding the water again with his 3rd shot from the drop zone. He hit the shot so fat and atrociously that the ball barely even reached the hazard, Spieth visibly furious turned his back and couldn’t even bear to watch. He finished the hole with a quadruple-bogey and faced a deficit of 3 shots. In a testament to Spieth’s mental strength he responded remarkably well, birdying 2 out of the next three holes and gave himself a slim chance of catching the leader, Danny Willett but the damage was too extensive, there was to be no revival. The old adage that “the Masters doesn’t really begin until the back nine on Sunday” was most certainly true today. Golf has seen its fair share of meltdowns over the year, Greg Norman in 96 at the Masters, Jean van de Velde at Carnoustie in 1999, Phil Mickelson at Winged Foot in 2006 and Mcilroy at the 2011 Masters but Spieth’s was arguably the most astonishing considering how impervious he appeared to the pressure most of the week.
Spieth was gracious in defeat, and in accordance with Masters tradition draped the green jacket on Danny Willett and congratulated him on his victory. Willett who nearly missed the Masters because of the birth of his child was the worthy winner. He shot an almost immaculate bogey-free 67 which included 5 birdies and he displayed tremendous nerve on the 17th to scramble an unlikely par. Willett’s victory will inevitably be overshadowed by Spieth’s collapse, but this was one of the best final round performances you’re likely to see at Augusta National.
Spieth understandably will be reeling from this loss for a while, but he can take great solace in the fact that he came so close to creating history. He’s played 3 Masters and his record is T2nd, 1st & T2nd which includes leading in 7 consecutive rounds. In addition he’s becoming scarily consistent in the majors, since the beginning of 2015 his record in the majors is 1st, 1st, T4th, 2nd & T2nd and yet he’s still only 22 years old.
There is no reason to suspect Spieth won’t bounce back from this, if anyone is mentally equipped to deal with a diaster of this scale, it is him. Champions overcome adversity, and Spieth is a champion. He will comeback from this nightmare.