Jordan Spieth was within seven holes of joining some seriously esteemed company as a back-to-back winner of the Masters, as only Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo have previously achieved the feat.
Instead, he will now be placed alongside Scott Hoch, Rory McIlroy and Greg Norman as suffering one of the most spectacular collapses in Augusta history. Arguably, Spieth’s is the most shocking, given his metronomic proficiency around the course. Hoch, Norman and McIlroy had never worn the Green Jacket before they self-destructed, for Spieth he’s looked mostly unbreakable every time he’s set foot on the Georgia fairways.
Hiccups during his second and third rounds this year gave his rivals an outlet but, bar McIlroy on Friday and the unheralded Smylie Kaufman (an unlikely winner) on Saturday, nobody was able to put significant pressure on the Texan.
In the end, the pressure all came from within. Bogeys on 10th and 11th displayed a semblance of nerves from Spieth but it wasn’t as if anyone below him was scoring with any great frequency to directly influence the matter.
The real body blow was what transpired on 12 – Golden Bell, or ‘Golden Hell’ as it has been renamed by some of its victims.
Nicklaus and Gary Player both dropped shots there to surrender the Green Jacket in 1981 and 1962, respectively; ‘Towering Inferno’ Tom Weiskopf melted with a 13 in 1980; in 1985 Payne Stewart set the template for Spieth by hitting Rae’s Creek twice and finishing with a 9; while Woods wrecked his chances of a Grand Slam in 2000 by triple-bogeying it on day one.
Even in catastrophic defeat, Spieth cannot escape history.
As he admitted, he rushed his tee shot on a hole he had birdied just 24 hours earlier. It then got considerably worse. But this wasn’t any great risk-taking, he was still comfortably ahead of the chasing pack. Instead four days of indifferent iron play erupted on one hole. After battling back with two birdies, to spark visions of a fairytale finish, Spieth’s challenge then died with a bogey on 17.
Immediately interviewed after, Spieth was close to tears, he spoke about being confident of being part of a “closing team” and then later on at the presentation ceremony he stumbled backwards in presenting Willett with the Green Jacket. But while his competitive spirit was manifested in its most negative way – winning was the only option, defeat too much to bear – was he being a little too hard on himself?
The reality is Spieth’s no rank outsider wasting his only ever chance of winning. He’ll be in contention for at least the next 10-15 Masters. He’s not a huge driver of the ball (75th on the PGA Tour), his game is about touch and class on the greens; injuries, physical ones at least, shouldn’t be an issue.
What transpired on Sunday is another chapter in his own, ‘how to win majors’ mental guidebook. History tells us, the best tend to bounce back, learning from such folly. Spieth knows he lost it as much as ice-cool Willett won it. But his chances to claim more majors will invariably fall well into double figures and, as he showed last year, win them he can.
He admitted it will be tough to put behind him and the healing could take time, but overthinking what he did and how much it matters would be a grave mistake.
History, and Spieth’s place in it, should be as much of a guide for the 22-year-old, as a pressure.