AUGUSTA, Ga. – One hole, 30 minutes, seven shots. That’s how long it took Jordan Spieth to lose the green jacket to Englishman Danny Willett Sunday at the Masters.
In an unbelievable turn of events, Spieth, who had a five-shot lead going into the second nine at Augusta National, hit two balls in the water on the short par-3 12th.
Spieth was seemingly in cruise control through nine holes. Standing behind the ninth green, the vibe at Augusta National was that of “here-we-go-again.”
The Golden Child had just poured in his fourth-straight birdie, and the thousands of fans were anxious to see how far away Spieth could pull from his competition.
Returning to the media centre, I saw prominent golf Twitter account had already photo-shopped a picture of Spieth handing himself another green jacket.
It was over.
And then it wasn’t.
“It was a really tough 30 minutes for me that hopefully I never experience again,” said Spieth.
The son of a vicar, the 28-year-old Willett won the Masters by way of Amen Corner on a beautiful Sunday in Georgia. And quite remarkably, Willett almost didn’t play this week.
His wife, Nicole, gave birth to son Zachariah James on March 30. Her original due date was April 10 – this magical Sunday.
Willett’s caddie wore jumper No. 89, signifying he was the final player in the field to register (each caddy’s all-white jumper features a number based on when a player arrives at Augusta National. The defending champion always gets No. 1). In a sign of things to come, it was the same jumper Jack Nicklaus’s caddy wore in 1986, 30 years ago this week, when he won his final Masters in magical fashion.
From last to register, to first on the scoreboard, it was a wild Sunday for the man from Sheffield, England.
“It’s not been a bad 12 days,” he said, as he called his wife immediately following his round to wish her a happy birthday (not a bad gift. She celebrates her 28th birthday April 11). “Words can’t describe the feelings of what’s going on and what we’ve just accomplished.”
With his win, Willett becomes the first Englishman since Nick Faldo in 1996 to capture a Green Jacket. As it happens so often in sports, there were parallels from the past.
When Faldo captured his last of three Masters titles 20 years ago this week, he shot a 5-under-par 67, and benefitted from the collapse of Australian Greg Norman.
Sunday, Willett shot a (you guessed it) 5-under-par 67, with no bogeys. And with Spieth’s second-nine disaster, he became a major champion.
“It all happened very, very quick,” said Willett. “We went from behind to obviously two in front. It was all a bit surreal.”
Patrons, media members, and fellow players alike could not believe Spieth’s dramatic fall down the leaderboard.
“I was absolutely shocked when I saw Jordan go from 5 to 1,” said Jason Day. “Sometimes you just don’t feel comfortable on certain shots, and unfortunately he hit a bad shot and another bad shot.”
Spieth held the lead at Augusta National for seven of the last eight rounds, but it never looked like he was comfortable right from the get-go Sunday.
He flew his coach in from Texas overnight Saturday to work on some things with his swing – not something you want to do going in to the final round of a major – and although he managed to cobble together solid scores in unpredictable, swirling winds for the first three rounds, his inconsistencies caught up with him late Sunday.
“I can’t think of anybody else who may have had a tougher ceremony to experience,” explained Spieth, who, as tradition dictates, had to bestow the green jacket on Willet. “Obviously happy for Danny. More important than golf, he’s had a lot of really cool things happen in his life. Like he said, maybe fate had it this time for him.”
No one could have guessed Spieth would be the giver of the jacket, not the receiver. But the unpredictability of golf is why we watch. The sport manages to meld art, science, tragedy and triumph. Raw emotion comes through at the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows.
Jordan Spieth, no doubt, will bounce back.
In just his third Masters appearance, he has beat 277 of the 282 players that have teed it up beside him. He’s a two-time major champion, rich beyond his wildest dreams, and is the betting favourite at the U.S. Open in June.
But today was not his day.
Call it divine intervention, call it fate, or just call it what it was: a masterful Sunday performance by Danny Willett, the 2016 Masters Champion.
Chip Shots: This was Paul Casey, Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama, and Justin Rose’s second-straight top-10 finish at The Masters… Bryson DeChambeau finished as Low Amateur with a score of +5. He will turn professional next week… 58-year-old Bernhard Langer finished +6 on the day, after starting Sunday just two shots back of the lead… Shane Lowry of Ireland, 51-year-old Davis Love III, and 2010 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen recorded aces on the par-3 16th. It was the first time three had been recorded in the same round, ever… the PGA Tour heads to South Carolina next week for the RBC Heritage. There will be five Canadians in the field including Mike Weir… While The Masters wrapped up Sunday, Canadian Brad Fritsch won on the Web.com Tour in a playoff.