The 42 minutes that cost Jordan Spieth the Masters
I wasn’t born when Jack Nicklaus won the Masters in 1986. I don’t really have any memories of Nick Faldo taking the title in 1996 after Greg Norman slowly imploded in utterly unbelievable fashion down the stretch. I have watched both of those final rounds in their entirety though, and if I had been around to watch those live, I can’t imagine that I’d ever forget what I had seen.
Both instances, Jack’s charge and Norman’s collapse, took place over several hours and while the eventual outcomes seemed possible, there was still an unlikely feeling about them. Even when you watch them back now knowing the results, it’s so easy to shake your head at what you’re seeing. There are moments in those two tournaments that you just can’t comprehend.
For this generation of golf fans, the 2016 Masters Tournament will fill that void, with one key part being completely different. This wasn’t a slow burn. This was a self inflicted knockout punch that no one saw coming.
Jordan Spieth held a five shot lead over Danny Willett as he went to the back nine, and at that point, the tournament felt over. The defending champion, and arguably the best player in the world, was in command and no one was close. Outside of Spieth, no one made a charge all day and with Spieth coming off of four birdies in a row to close his front nine in 32, it seemed like there was no chance of seeing anything other than a back-to-back champion for the first time since Tiger Woods in 2001.
That’s when it all unraveled over three holes. This is how it happened.
Spieth -7 (9) – Willett -2 (12)
With Willett heading to the 13th tee, Spieth takes out 3-wood, and he doesn’t like it right off the club face. The ball ends up in the first cut of rough on the right side, barely missing the fairway and giving him 202 yards to the hole with his approach.
” Just blocked it up on top of the hill, just makes things a lot longer. He’s added 40 yards, but it’s a safe miss. ” – Nick Faldo
On his approach into the green, Spieth immediately asks for the ball not to plug. It’s headed for the bunker, but as Faldo says, it’s okay; the ball didn’t plug, and Spieth should have plenty of green to work with when blasting out. Meanwhile, Willett smashed his drive on the par-5 13th and ended up with an iron into the green from 199 yards out for his approach.
Spieth would hit a poor (by his standards) bunker shot, but as Faldo mentioned, with the way he was putting, it seemed reasonable to believe that the flat stick would bail him out and allow him to escape the 10th with a par before going on to Amen Corner. Not this time.
After that miss, and Willett’s two putt birdie on 13, the lead that was five was immediately cut to three as Spieth went to the 11th tee.
Spieth -6 (10) – Willett -3 (13)
” Now, he had a five shot lead on Friday at one time that dwindled to one and then it went back up to four on Saturday; then down to one. A moment ago, it was five and now it’s three. No one’s ever caught him, but he’s been in this window the whole time. Always leading, and now the margin is three over Willett. ” – Jim Nantz
With that reaction, it was obvious that Spieth’s ball was going to be nowhere near the fairway. This one was pushed right and into the pine straw, a spot where Dustin Johnson had trouble just a couple of groups prior. Even laying up could prove to be difficult if Spieth got too aggressive with the water guarding the left side of the green. It was going to come down to his short game again. While that was going on, Willett fired a dart into the par-4 14th that would eventually lead to another birdie, moving him to -4.
After pitching back into the fairway, Spieth stayed aggressive and went right at the pin, giving him a good chance to stay two shots clear of the suddenly fast charging Willett.
” Both Greller and Spieth looked at that leaderboard, and the three of Willett is still not up, so he thinks he’s got a three shot lead. ” – Frank Nobilo
” This is the club, time and time again, he goes to.” – Nobilo
Not this time, either.
The lead is one.
Spieth -5 (11) – Willett -4 (14)
” It’ll be fascinating Frank to see how brave he wants to be at 12. ” – Faldo
With the lead down to one, Willett stepped up to the par-5 15th and smashed a drive, but it leaked left and with the tree trouble he had, there was no other option but to lay up and attack the green in three with a wedge. Back to Spieth on the short par-3 12th, discussing his options with caddie Michael Greller.
” It’s a good club. ” – Greller
” This won’t go over? ” – Spieth
” No. ” – Greller
” You don’t think? ” – Spieth
” It’s just stock. ” – Greller
Not only did it not go over, it didn’t even come close to getting over the bank guarding the green.
As soon as it went into the water, CBS eerily flashed back to two years ago when Spieth was chasing Bubba Watson and with the pin in its traditional Sunday spot, Spieth ended up short and in the water. In a strange way, they seemed prepared for this on some level.
At this point, the lead was gone completely unless he was able to hole out with his third. This one barely got into Rae’s Creek.
” This is unbelievable. The ironman is now having an absolute meltdown. ” – Faldo
” He’s never hit one that fat in his life. ” – Faldo
Willett, who had no idea what was happening behind him, pitched to the back of the green while Spieth took another drop. There was no way he was going to be short again, but his fifth ended up in the back bunker, further extending the nightmare on this tiny little hole that has doled out more than its fair share of punishment over the years. Spieth would blast out of the bunker, leaving a short putt for a quadruple bogey seven.
Willett didn’t end up making birdie on the 15th, but his par was good enough to indirectly gain four shots on Spieth and give himself a two-shot cushion on his nearest competitor, Dustin Johnson.
Willett -4 (15) – Spieth -1 (12)
The five shot lead was now a three shot deficit, and all it took was 42 minutes. If you think that it’s unfair to Danny Willett to suggest that Jordan Spieth lost this tournament more than Willett won it, there’s probably some truth to that. Willett shot 67 on Sunday, and aside from Spieth’s 66 on Thursday, no one had a better round all week. It was pretty much a flawless golf from the first tee to the eighteenth green. Much like Faldo in 1996, he posted a number, 283, that no one else beat for the whole week. He won this tournament and no one can take that away from him, but at least right now, it doesn’t feel that way.
Not this time.