AUGUSTA, Ga. – They walked side by side up the 17th fairway, each wearing a dark shirt, light pants and a white hat, so hard to tell apart. Adam Scott was the one carrying the long putter and the ID that enables him to buy beer. Jordan Spieth carried the more impressive scorecard.
Spieth is 20 years old and leads the Masters heading into the final round, and the thing about that is … what, you want more? He is 20 years old and leads the Masters. Spieth whipped Scott, the 2013 champion, by six strokes Saturday. If he does the same to the 2012 champion, Bubba Watson, he could become the youngest major championship winner in 92 years.
Strange, though: He seems like one of the oldest.
Oh, sure, Spieth said he consulted “Mr. Nicklaus” and “Mr. Crenshaw” for advice on how to play Augusta National, but that was just him being polite. He isn’t going to say he chatted with the Bear and Gentle Ben. He also consulted Crenshaw’s longtime caddie, Carl Jackson, and joked that his own caddie, Michael Geller, has quoted Jackson so much that Spieth is going to buy him a shirt that says “Carl says”.
But anybody can ask for advice. It’s not surprising that Spieth would want it from two men who have combined to win this event eight times, and it’s not surprising that Nicklaus and Crenshaw would give it. That’s how they are. The amazing thing is how Spieth processes all the information and applies it to his play under the ultimate golf pressure.
Spieth and Jonas Blixt are the only players in the field to break par all three days. Spieth said he could tell from the first hole that the course would be difficult Saturday. He immediately adjusted.
He talked about the importance of lag putting and staying patient. He stopped just short of telling everybody in the press room to eat their vegetables and get to bed early, and … wait, did we mention something?
“I’m 20,” Spieth said, “and this is the Masters.”
Some context: He is younger than Tiger Woods was when he won the 1997 Masters (though if we’re going to compare, we must note that Woods won that Masters by 12 shots.)
If you are of a certain age, you remember Magic Johnson stunning the Philadelphia 76ers with 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals. Spieth is younger now than Magic was then.
You want more? Lee Westwood is in contention here, at 2-under par, three shots behind Spieth. Westwood is one of the best players in the world, and still believes he has time to win at least one major, maybe more. Westwood turned pro the same year Spieth was born.
Spieth’s ascendance would make a little sense if he was blowing his drives past everybody else, the way Woods did at that age. Augusta is designed for long hitters with feel around the greens. But Spieth isn’t that long. Watson, his playing partner Sunday, hits it much farther.
Spieth’s game arrived on the PGA Tour fully formed, like a baby that not only knows how to shave, but needs to. Spieth was asked about contending with Watson’s booming drives Sunday, and he said simply, “I’m not going to worry about him being 40 past me.”
If you have followed Spieth at all in the last year, you knew this moment was coming. He won last year’s John Deere Classic, finished second three other times and finished in the top 10 nine times. The surprise is that the moment came this soon.
Heck, just three days ago, Spieth stood outside the clubhouse after the first Masters round of his life and talked about how much he had to learn. Spieth had played with Rory McIlroy and fellow Masters rookie Patrick Reed, and he said this:
“You could see certain spots where Rory hit shots that looked like they were off-line, but in fact they were right where they needed to be, whereas Patrick and I were going more towards the pin … You see certain shots he hits where he knows the golf course, and we’re still learning it.”
Three days later, McIlroy was in the last group, playing with the National’s club champion, Jeff Knox, because an odd number of players made the cut. Knox shot 70, one stroke better than McIlroy.
Meanwhile, Spieth was grabbing a share of the lead by aiming for the middle of greens instead of firing at pins. It was like he attended class for the first three weeks of a semester and asked to take the final exam. He played smarter and more patiently than more experienced players.
As Spieth talked to his approach shot on 17, telling it to do what he wanted, he looked as calm as any other weekend hacker who talks to his golf ball. The difference with Spieth: His ball listens.
A lot of guys can win this: Watson, certainly, but also Matt Kuchar (one of the best players never to win a major), Miguel Angel Jimenez (also in that conversation), Rickie Fowler, Westwood, Jim Furyk, Thomas Bjorn … the leaderboard is filled with possibilities. They are all great golfers, and they better be. It will be hard to beat Mr. Spieth.