AUGUSTA, Ga. – The hard part for Jordan Spieth is that he goes to bed on Saturday night, wakes up on Sunday morning and puts his tee in the ground on Sunday afternoon knowing that the 79th Masters was already over. He had it won.
It was a remarkable victory. Some of the top names in golf came after him, but Spieth didn’t flinch. Rory McIlroy. Phil Mickelson. Tiger Woods. It didn’t matter. Spieth had sucked the suspense out of the most suspenseful tournament in golf.
He started the day with a five-stroke lead, and he said he didn’t even look at the leaderboard until he got to the 15th green. There was no need. He knew his name was on top of it. Then, late in the afternoon, Mickelson made a ridiculous birdie putt on the par-3 16th–a 41-footer that flipped on its turn signal and crawled into the hole. That moved Mickelson to 12 under. Spieth had just bogeyed the par-4 14th to slip to 16 under—just four strokes clear of the field.
You could almost hear the gallery scream, “Tension!” while those in the press room yelled, “Please?” The Masters is supposed to swim in uncertainty until the back nine on Sunday. It makes for a better story.
And what did Spieth do? He birdied the par-five 15th. He stuck his tee shot on No. 16 to within 14 feet and birdied that hole too. Suddenly the four-stroke lead was six.
And then Mickelson bogeyed the 17th, and Spieth led by seven shots. It was over. The green jacket was his.
He could reserve an Augusta house rental in early April for the next 40 years, knowing he would come back as a Masters champion.
You know, just as long as he didn’t …
… hit driver on 17, for one. He admitted afterward that “driver never should have come out of my bag at that point,” considering the hole was playing downwind, he was getting erratic with the club, he was in control of the tournament, and a 3-wood would have left him with an 8-iron into the green. His tee shot found the trees down the left side, and after his approach missed the green right, he chunked a chip and three-putted for a double-bogey.
Then after his approach at the 18th sailed into the gallery right of the green, he saved par with a magnificent flop shot and what he called “one of the bigger putts I’ve ever hit.” But he had already opened the door again. And he has to make peace with that before he tees off on Sunday.
Make no mistake, though: This is still Spieth’s Masters to lose, and I don’t expect him to lose it. Even with that double-bogey, he showed remarkable poise for most of the day. Woods had a bigger gallery, and elicited some roars. Mickelson is only 17 months younger than Jack Nicklaus was when Nicklaus stunned the golf world at the ’86 Masters, and he is the sentimental favorite. McIlroy hasn’t been himself lately, but he is still the best golfer in the world. Dustin Johnson has Bubba-like Masters potential.
So you look at the leaderboard and see P. MICKELSON and J. ROSE and R. McILROY and T. WOODS and D. JOHNSON and you think: Hey, one of those guys can catch J. SPIETH. But the truth is, a lot of the names on the leaderboard are not really in contention. Woods and McIlroy are tied for fifth place, but they are 10 shots back. Even if one of them shoots a Masters-record 63, Spieth would still just have to shoot even-par 72 to beat him.
This looks like a three-man tournament: Spieth, Justin Rose (four strokes back) and Mickelson (five). Even Charley Hoffman, who gamely shot 71 while paired with Spieth on Saturday to fall six back, is probably out of it.
“When I look back today: two under, I thought, would be a good score,” Spieth said after Saturday’s round. That’s the trick he has to play on his mind: remember that he did what he needed to do on Saturday, and forget what he almost did.
Spieth is 21 and leads by four strokes. McIlroy was 21 when he took a four-stroke lead into Sunday in 2011 and shot an 80 that was every bit as awful as it sounds. Then there is Greg Norman’s famous collapse in 1996. Norman started the week with a 63; Spieth began with 64. They both led after the second and third rounds.
Norman blew a six-stroke lead (to Nick Faldo) on Sunday. I don’t think Jordan Spieth will do that. I think Spieth will win this Masters. He just needs to ignore the fact that he basically won it already.