Spieth: 'It will take a while'
The 22-year-old describes his back nine at Augusta National
April 10, 2016
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
- Jordan Spieth presents Danny Willett with the Green Jacket after Willett won the final round of the 2016 Masters Tournament. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- It all happened so suddenly and unexpectedly, like watching a car that you’re cruising behind down the highway abruptly veer off the road.
“Big picture, this one will hurt,” a stunned Jordan Spieth said as he was surrounded by cameras and microphones in the fading Sunday evening light behind the clubhouse at Augusta National after blowing a five-stroke lead with nine holes to play Sunday at the Masters. “It will take a while.”
It didn’t take long for one of the most shocking collapses in tournament and major championship history to unfold.
For most of the first 63 holes of the 80th Masters, Jordan Spieth appeared in control of himself and the tournament as he headed toward a second-straight Green Jacket to become just the fourth player to successfully defend his title at Augusta National, joining Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Nick Faldo.
The 22-year-old Texan had held the lead after each of his last seven rounds at Augusta National dating back to last year and through the better part of four blustery, difficult days this week had managed to get to 7 under with just nine holes to play.
A year ago, he had grabbed the tournament by the throat with an opening-round 64, not allowing anyone to get any closer than two strokes before coasting to a four-stroke win in which he tied the tournament’s four-day scoring record and became the second-youngest player to slip his arms into a Green Jacket behind only Woods.
This year, it was a bit more smoke and mirrors. Spieth hit just under 60 percent of his fairways and 68 percent of the greens in regulation for the week.
Still, he had done just enough -- despite a bogey-double finish on Saturday -- to take a one-stroke lead over Smylie Kaufman, a 24-year-old playing in his first Masters and just second major, into the final round.
It was concerning enough, however, that Spieth decided to fly his swing coach Cameron McCormick back into town from Dallas to help iron things out Sunday morning before the start of his final round.
“He texted me and said, ‘Hey, would you like it if I came back?’ I said, ‘Sure,’” Spieth said. “It can only help me if he's here. And he likes for me to be self‑reliant.
“But at the same time the wheels kind of came off the last three holes on Saturday, and I think he felt that just his voice would bring my confidence back into my swing, and it certainly did.”
By the time Spieth made the turn on Sunday, his lead had ballooned to five thanks to four-straight birdies to close out the front nine. Game over.
Except there’s a reason the cliché goes that the Masters doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday. Spieth still had to navigate fives holes with water on them. It wouldn’t even take that many.
4:21 p.m. ET: Spieth’s slide started with a bogey on the 495-yard par-4 10th, where he missed the green right and couldn’t get up-and-down from the sand, the normally reliable bunker player leaving himself 13 feet short and then missing the putt. Meanwhile, three holes ahead of him playing in the fourth-to-last group of the day, Danny Willett birdied the par-5 13th to cut the deficit to three strokes.
4:35 p.m. ET: At the 505-yard par-4 11th, the start of Amen Corner, it seemed Spieth didn’t have a prayer after pushing his drive right and into the trees. He was forced to punch out, but hit his third shot to 8 feet. Inexplicably, the one club that had saved him so many times this week didn’t. He two-putted for bogey. Up ahead, Willett stuck his approach to 4 feet on 14 and made birdie. Spieth’s lead was down to just one and the atmosphere suddenly thick with tension.
4:49 p.m. ET: The 155-yard 12th is the shortest hole at Augusta National, but it has sunk its share of dreams through the years. Named Golden Bell it has been a Golden Hell for many. Tom Wieskopf made a 13 there in 1980 and one of the more memorable disasters came 20 years ago when Greg Norman made double bogey after hitting his tee shot into Rae’s Creek short of the green to complete a final-round meltdown for the ages. But his collapse occurred over the course of the day. Spieth’s came so jarringly, and it was how it happened that made it that much more stunning -- tee shot into the water, drop, chunk, water, bladed pitch over the green, up-and-down for quadruple bogey.
"I didn't take that extra deep breath and really focus on my line on 12," Spieth said. "Instead I went up and I just put a quick swing on it.
"It was really one swing. That hole, for whatever reason, just has people's number."
A few holes ahead, Willett was as surprised as everyone else.
“I actually heard everyone, you know, grunting and moaning or whatever they do to the scoreboard when the scores go up,” he said. “I was waiting for someone to, as a little joke, to put a 7 back up there.
“It was one of those things, you know, that hole will do it. It's one of the toughest par 3s in golf. It's probably played easier the last few days with it being so windy because you know the wind is there. But today there was a five, six, seven‑mile‑an‑hour breeze, and when you hit a shot of 145 yards, or knock it long if you get the wrong side of it, it's a treacherous little par 3. It's just one of them unfortunate things that happened to Jordan which obviously opened it right up.”
In less than an hour, Spieth had gone from leading by five to being down by three.
“It's about what it's probably like watching from the outside,” Spieth said. “I can't imagine that was fun for anyone to experience, other than maybe Danny's team.
“At one point I told Mike (caddie Michael Greller), I said, ‘Buddy, it seems like we're collapsing.’ I wanted to be brutally honest with the way I felt towards him, so that he could respond with what was necessary to get us to rebound.”
Spieth did rebound, making birdie on the par-5 13th, another at the par-5 15th and stuck his tee shot on the par-3 16th to 8 feet.
Willett was already in the clubhouse at 5 under thanks to an impressive bogey-free 67 -- just one of two rounds on the day without a blemish -- that was punctuated with a birdie from 7 feet on 16.
Now it was Spieth’s turn. He needed to birdie two of the next three holes to force a playoff with the gritty 28-year-old Brit whose wife had given birth to the couple’s first child, Zachariah James, via C-section a little more than a week earlier.
Spieth’s putter couldn’t bail him out this time. He missed the delicate downhill putt and one hole later bogeyed after failing to get up-and-down from a bunker. He shot 73 -- his third straight round over par after playing his first nine career rounds at Augusta National under par -- and tied for second with Lee Westwood, three strokes back.
“I had my B‑minus game tee to green, and I made up for it around the greens with my putter,” Spieth said. “Ultimately you just have to have your ‘A’ game every single part, and I just didn't have those iron swings, as it showed on the back nine.”
Just outside the gates of Augusta National a lone bagpiper played the Scottish funeral march “Flowers of the Forest,” as the sun sank over the back end of the driving range. In a nearby parking lot, Spieth’s caddie, coach and dad Shawn embraced.
Meanwhile, Spieth slipped a Green Jacket onto the shoulders of Willett on the putting green behind the lily-white clubhouse.
A short while later, Spieth emerged from the Champions' Locker Room and onto the balcony that wraps around the front of the building before turning the corner to go down the stairs, toward the nearby parking lot and into the awaiting silver Mercedes SUV courtesy car, but not before offering one, final thought that best summed up what he was feeling.
“They just told me I can’t take my Green Jacket with me,” said Spieth, hoping the attempt at humor would dull the pain.