They say that truth is so much more interesting than fiction. When a young American hero story turned into a full blown Shakespearian Tragedy over the back nine at Augusta on Sunday this adage was reiterated in spades.
Jordan Spieth the young Lion King of the PGA Tour led The Masters for three days setting a record having led the Masters over seven consecutive rounds including his wire-to-wire win last year. But a shaky finish over the last two holes on Saturday night was not sitting well with him. His long time swing coach flew in from Dallas for a little swing triage in the morning.
It had the desired effect and Jordan,exclusively using his three-wood off the tee, corrected his rightward driving tendency of the day before leaving unobstructed approaches throughout the front nine. He seemed to have a second consecutive Green Jacket in his grasp when he got to 7-under par after a string of four birdies in a row closing out the front nine. His closest pursuer was five back and was steadily getting smaller in the rear view mirror.
In the midst of Jordan’s birdie barrage on the front nine…everything was going downEmbed from Getty Images
But once he stepped on to the tee for the inward half, that swing flaw revisited and the result was three shots wandering aimlessly right into bother resulting in back-to-back bogies on 10 and 11. Then standing on the tee at the 150 yard 12th , one of the most difficult holes in championship golf, the Green Clad Golf Gods must have sensed his mental vulnerability when they stunned him with a pair of taser shots to the midsection. What resulted were two balls into the water and a disastrous quadruple bogey 7. So quickly golf can take a star from fame to infamy and Jordan got the full brunt of that transition in under an hour.
The second of three approach attempts into the 12th….quite a divot on this oneEmbed from Getty Images
As this story goes the White Knight was an unlikely English hero in 28-year old Danny Willett. Bogey free on the day he seized the moment going birdie-birdie-par from 13 to 15 and then flagged his short iron into the back left pin on the Par 3 16th. Stoically rolling in the birdie putt to get to 5-under par he built an insurmountable 4–shot advantage over Jordan Spieth in the aftermath of folly on the 12th.
Hats off to the new Masters Champion walking off the 18th greenEmbed from Getty Images
To those who have followed this young man’s rise to 12th in the World Golf Rankings this past year this performance is not that much of a surprise. In 2015 he played steady golf all year taking a share of sixth in the Open Championship on his way to finishing second in the year-long Race to Dubai behind Rory McIlroy. His 2016 began with a huge win in February at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic against a very strong international field and he followed that with a third in the WGC Cadillac Championship a month later at Doral.
In the tough conditions that prevailed at Augusta this week Danny just seemed to hang around par each day when many with much better golf pedigrees were wilting under the stress of the whipping winds and slick crusty greens. Jack Nicklaus, who knows a little bit about winning the big one, said of Danny Willett, “What impressed me so much is that when he realized he was in a position to win, he finished it—and that’s the mark of a champion.”
The agony and the ecstasy….from right to left
To his credit Jordan did not fold up his tent after the 12th hole debacle he made a couple of scrappy birdies on the two five pars coming in and stuck it inside 10 feet behind the flag on the Par 3 16th with a chance to close the lead to one. What a difference a year makes, Jordan had made a longer putt for par on almost the same line to this pin during the final round of his win last year but he over read the break this time and his chances of a heroic rise from the ashes faltered when the birdie putt did not drop.
To the winner the spoils…. a few pieces of memorabilia for the plane flight homeEmbed from Getty Images
There is little doubt that the scars from this jarring incident will not heal quickly for young Jordan, but he can take solace in the thought that all great champions have had Major opportunities slip through their fingers early in their careers. As Tom Watson said in a Masters swan song interview the other day, in spite of all the wins it is the ones that got away that you cannot forget. Tom did all right for himself down the road. I am sure that with his competitive constitution Spieth will find motivation in this disaster and do quite fine as well.