Given Jordan Spieth’s bogey-bogey-quad run from holes 10-12, it’s easy to say that he lost the Masters more than Danny Willett won it. But that would ignore Willett’s fantastic round -- a bogey-free 67 that beat the field average by almost six shots.
Willett’s back nine stands out. He navigated holes 10-12 at even par to stay in the tournament, and ran off birdies at the 13th, 14th, and 16th as Spieth imploded around Amen Corner.
Sunday featured easier scoring conditions than the first three rounds, but Augusta National still showed its teeth. Thirteen holes played over par and only the par 5s and the par 3 16th served up realistic birdie chances. For the round, Willett lost strokes to the field on only two holes – missing birdie putts of 7 and 15 feet after layups on the par 5 2nd and 15th holes.
In Butler Cabin, Willett spoke about the importance of keeping pace with Spieth’s front-nine birdie barrage. Willett didn’t match Spieth’s fireworks, but he avoided bogeys. Playing three holes ahead of the final pairing, Willett navigated the treacherous stretch from 10 to 12 while Spieth reeled off birdies on 6, 7, 8, and 9. Willett gained a shot on the field (and six on Spieth!) by playing holes 10-12 in even par.
Willett still needed a big number from Spieth to have a chance and Spieth gave it to him with the baffling quadruple bogey on 12. Willett promptly stuck a gutsy iron over the water on 16 to set up birdie at the 16th and parred in for his first major title.
For the week, Willett ranked T18 in birdies or better (13) and did not record an eagle. Spieth finished with far and away the most birdies (22) – a reflection of some truly amazing irons and clutch putting. But Willett made only eight bogeys and nothing worse – an outstanding figure given the U.S. Open-like conditions the first three days. The field made bogey or worse on almost 26% of their holes; Willett on only 11%.
He gained shots on the field on drives and approach shots, and with his short game. If precise irons and clutch putts win the Masters, Willett was a deserving victor as he gained +11.5 of his +14.2 strokes gained in those two areas.
More interesting, he didn’t follow the typical blueprint of Masters winners by dominating the par 5s. Of the 89-man field, Willett ranked 1st in par 4 scoring and 2nd in par 3 scoring, but only 69th in par 5 scoring (Spieth ranked no. 1 on the par 5s).
We’ve now seen two straight 20-something Masters champions win their first major with audacious iron play and clutch putting. For Jordan Spieth, a win and two T2s will give him the confidence to come back and contend for many more green jackets. For Willett, this is the culmination of a multi-year rise towards the top of the sport and a sure sign that he can hold his own with the best in the world.