AUGUSTA, Ga.—Your new Masters champion talks to his ball, has a short game that combines the best of vintage Tiger and Phil, and when standing over short putts will look at either the ball or the hole, depending on how he feels.
Jordan Spieth, following up on his second-place finish in his Masters debut last year, never came back to the field on Sunday, shooting a final-round 70 to beat Phil Mickelson (69) and Justin Rose (70) by four strokes. Spieth, 21, became the second youngest Masters champion after Tiger Woods and broke or tied a slew of other records in the process.
“It’s an honor to join those names that have been on the trophy before,” said Spieth, whose 18-under total matched the record set by Woods in 1997. “All in all, just very, very happy with the day today.”
World No. 1 Rory McIlroy tied for the low round of the day with a 66 to finish fourth, six back. Hideki Matsuyama (66) was fifth.
The first wire-to-wire winner at Augusta National since Raymond Floyd in 1976, Spieth slept on the lead every night. He got plenty of shut-eye on Thursday night but not so much rest before the final round; he was awake at 7 a.m. on Sunday. He avoided Golf Channel and ESPN, and to take his mind off things on Saturday night he watched Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which happened to be on TV. He ate lunch alone in the players’ locker room on Sunday.
A year ago he held a share of the 54-hole lead but lost to Bubba Watson, and as the week started, it looked as if this was going to be Spieth’s week. He is, as Ian Poulter said, “The hottest player on the planet,” a man barely old enough to drink who now has two wins and two seconds in his last four starts.
As dinnertime approached the only question was how much he would win by, and whether he would break Woods’s 72-hole scoring. Spieth became the first player in Masters history to get to 19 under with a birdie at the par-5 15th, but at the home hole he lost his drive in the right trees and missed a five-foot par putt.
The young Texan also set new marks for low 36-hole score (130) and low 54-hole score (200). He needed just 10 holes on Sunday to set the record for most birdies in a Masters, cruising past Mickelson’s old mark of 25 before stopping at 28.
“The ultimate goal, that I’ve mentioned each week, is to become the number one player in the world,” said Spieth. “I’m not quite there yet.”
Spieth, who will move from fourth to second in the World Ranking, was chased by some of the biggest names in the game, but none could summon his best golf for more than a hole or two at a time on Sunday. The sentimental favorite, Mickelson, 44, notched his 10th runner-up finish in a major. His 274 total would have won each of the last three Masters and matched the tournament record for the best score by a runner-up.
“It was set up to make birdies if you hit great shots,” Mickelson said after just his third top-10 finish anywhere since he won the 2013 British Open. “It was set up for an exceptional round. Unfortunately I didn’t do it.”
To a man, other players count themselves as fans of Spieth, whom they laud with words like “classy” and “an old soul” and “mature beyond his years.” His younger brother, Steven, plays basketball for Brown, and his sister, Ellie, is a special-needs child for whom Jordan buys souvenir key chains when he’s on the road. He is long on perspective, and has been on the radar of serious golf watchers for some time.
He started playing the game at age 2, when his father gave him a set of plastic clubs. He played his first Tour event as a high school junior at 16, contending at the 2010 HP Byron Nelson until fading with a final-round 72 to finish 16th. And he played catch me if you can at Augusta, starting with his opening 64.
“He just does everything really well,” said Keegan Bradley, who shot a final-round 68 to finish two under. “And he putts the ball really, really well.”
“I think he’s playing a different golf course than I’m playing right now,” said Patrick Reed, who shot a final-round 70 to also finish two under.
“I don’t think it matters what golf course he’s playing,” said Rickie Fowler, who finished T-12 after a final-round 67.
Fowler’s assessment isn’t just hyperbole. In his last four starts, Spieth has won a playoff at the Valspar Championship; finished second to Jimmy Walker at the Valero Texas Open; lost a playoff to J.B. Holmes at the Shell Houston Open; and obliterated the field at this cathedral of golf.
Before his first Masters start last year, and even before his second start last week, Spieth and his caddie, Michael Greller, soaked up as much knowledge as they could from Ben Crenshaw, who like Spieth is a University of Texas product, and Crenshaw’s longtime caddie Carl Jackson. It has been a fruitful mentorship.
In his two Masters starts, Spieth has a tie for second and a not terribly suspenseful win. No one got closer than three shots on Sunday, and the only tense moment, if you can call it that, came when Spieth’s ball was in the air at the par-5 13th hole, where instead of playing safe he opted to go for the green in two.
“Go hard!” Spieth told his ball, which cleared Rae’s Creek by a few paces and stopped 14 feet past the hole. He barely missed his eagle try and tapped in for another birdie to get to 18 under par, five ahead of Rose and Mickelson.
Rose twice cut the lead to three strokes on the front nine, but he bogeyed the 6th, settled for par at the 8th while Spieth was making birdie at the par-5 and bogeyed the 9th to make the turn in even-par 36.
Spieth turned in 35 and he walked to the 10th tee with a five-shot lead. And then, for the third time in four days, he birdied the par-4 10th, historically the most difficult hole at Augusta National.
“The momentum really stopped for me on eight and nine,” said Rose.
McIlroy and Woods, playing in the third to last group, began the day 10 shots back and in need of a miracle round. But Woods missed every fairway on the front nine and went out in one-over 37. Worse still, he seemed to hit a tree root under the pine needles right of the 9th fairway.
“It definitely hurt,” said Woods, who signed for a final-round 73 and finished 17th. “I didn't know there was a tree root there. I drove my hand or drove the club straight into it. It didn't move. But my body kept moving.”
On the bright side Woods seems to have conquered his chip yips, and he finished four rounds for the first time since the 2014 British Open.
Spieth’s short game was otherworldly. He took 108 putts, which was third-best in the field, and he leads the PGA Tour in putting this season. Almost every time Rose or Mickelson threatened to make this a tournament, Spieth answered with a deft chip or putt.
As for the No. 1 ranking and a rivalry with McIlroy, Spieth, who plans to play in next week’s RBC Heritage, said we’ll just have to wait and see.
“I don't know, as far as a rivalry right now,” Spieth said. “I look forward to getting in the heat of the moment with him a couple times in the near future and see if we can battle it out and test our games.”
This could get good. Really good.