Tour Confidential: Jordan Spieth’s Historic Masters Victory

April 13, 2015

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. Jordan Spieth tied Tiger Woods’ record for low 72-hole score at the Masters and eclipsed Phil Mickelson’s mark for most birdies over four rounds. What was most impressive about his performance?

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Spieth is a new kind of superstar. Every previous king of golf dominated with power and length. Spieth is somewhat short and kinda crooked, to be honest. He is a superstar at getting the ball in the hole, combining Ben Crenshaw’s putting prowess with Seve Ballesteros’ chipping and sand-play prowess. How exactly did he destroy Augusta National? By making putt after putt. He will cause a new emphasis on scoring skills with golf teachers worldwide.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, GOLF Magazine (@CameronMorfit): Jordan is just such a cool character. Beyond his demeanor, though, his short game stands out. It’s just so, so strong. I actually think he played the most crucial shots of the tournament Saturday, with that extremely difficult up-and-down par on 18 when he looked like he was starting to leak oil. 

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: When he patted his caddie on the shoulder after the double-bogey on 17 on Saturday. There is a humanity about this young man that leaves me hopeful for the future of mankind. Golf, too.

Coleman McDowell, assistant editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@ColemanMcDowell): His up-and-down on the 18th hole on Saturday. He was coming off a double-bogey and short-sided himself with his approach that missed right behind a bunker. Initially, he wanted to bump it down the hill, then changed his mind and played an aggressive flop. And he pulled it off. He then fist-pumped his par putt before it dropped like a boss. The tournament ended right then.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, SI Golf Group (@JeffRitter): Spieth’s short game is world-class, but his resiliency won the tournament. On Saturday he had a shaky three-putt on No. 4 and then birdied four of his next nine holes. On Sunday he hit it into the trees on No. 7 and bogeyed, then came back and birdied 8. Then he bogeyed 12 and nearly eagled 13, and it was all over. He had countless opportunities to crack but never did.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine: (@JoshSens) Sleeping on a big lead three nights in a row and showing up in the morning looking like a guy who’d snoozed peacefully. That’s some steely stuff. Every time it seemed like he might stumble, he righted himself instead of tumbling down that slippery slope where Norman, Venturi and other big names have left unsightly skidmarks in the past.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): Where to start? He’s the first wire-to-wire winner at the Masters in 39 years. Plus, every time somebody made a run at him over the last two days — and those were big names making those runs — he always seemed to have an answer. But perhaps most important was how he carried himself throughout the week, on the course and in the interview room. The kid is 21 going on 41.

Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF Magazine (@JoePassov): It’s tough to pick between his mature-beyond-his-years course management skills and his ability to hole an astonishing number of hard-breaking, 10- to 20-foot putts exactly when he needed them. His speed control on putts was phenomenal. The first hole on Sunday foretold everything we would we need to know. Rose applies immediate heat with his approach, Spieth answers, with an even better shot. Rose buries the putt for a rare birdie at the first — and Spieth responds in kind. Spieth hit a few poor shots and missed some makeable putts, but he never wavered.

Jessica Marksbury, associate editor, GOLF Magazine (@Jess-Marksbury): I loved his composure. To do what he did — to sleep on the lead of the Masters for three straight nights at 21 years old — was simply remarkable. If anyone had any doubts about his mettle down the stretch before this week, I think it’s now crystal clear that Jordan has some serious staying power. Amazing.

2. Regardless of what the Official World Golf Rankings say and the 66 he shot on Sunday, has Rory McIlroy relinquished No. 1 status to Jordan Spieth?

BAMBERGER: No. Rory is the best player in the world. I realize it’s a now-now-now world, but winning back-to-back majors has to have longer than eight-month shelf life, doesn’t it?

MORFIT: They’re an interesting contrast because Jordan is a better putter and Rory a better driver of the ball. At this moment I’d say Jordan is No. 1. Look at what he’s done this year: two wins, two seconds, and three more top-10 finishes at Phoenix, Pebble and L.A. Rory not only hasn’t won, he hasn’t come all that close, and he has looked tired this year, as if all the attention is sort of bugging him. And all that working out and weightlifting. Geez.

PASSOV: Maybe we give up our endless obsession with “Who’s No. 1?” and let this sink in, even though Spieth’s stated goal is to be No. 1. Even before the Masters, Spieth unquestionably had outplayed everyone in the world since November 2014, especially in the last month. Yet, McIlroy owns the previous two majors and did win one European Tour event (though he has not dominated) since then. Remember, Rory played incredibly well in the 2014 FedEx Cup events, too. Spieth is the best right this minute, but I’m fine with Rory at No. 1 based on the last 12 months.

GODICH: Does it really matter who’s ranked No. 1? What ‘s important is that we have a budding rivalry between a couple of young guns. Sit back and enjoy.

VAN SICKLE: No, Rory is still No. 1. But Jordan just stepped into the same room as Rory. It’s that close.

SENS: I’d like to see him beat Rory head to head in a few more events before we make that unofficial announcement.

MARKSBURY: No. One breakthrough major win doesn’t make you an automatic world No. 1 (even when it’s done in record-tying fashion). Rory’s body of work over the last few years speaks for itself. And he still ended up T4, despite a lackluster start. I expect Jordan to be battling Rory for that No. 1 spot throughout the summer though, and THAT is a very exciting prospect.

MCDOWELL: Not even close. After 27 holes, McIlroy was 3-over and facing a trunk slam in his first attempt at the career grand slam. He played the next 45 holes in 15-under. His best is still better than anyone else’s, even if he hasn’t figured out Augusta’s greens the way Spieth has. Maybe he needs to find his version of Ben Crenshaw/Carl Jackson.

RITTER: Rory’s still No. 1, but he’d better watch out. The rankings say Spieth is now No. 2, but I have him as 1B. Jordan’s last 10 events: Win, T7, MC, T7, T4, T17, Win, 2, 2, Masters Win. Wow.


3. Did Augusta National’s yielding such low scores diminish the tournament — and Spieth’s achievements in any way — or was it refreshing to see so many red numbers in a major?

VAN SICKLE: I’ve said it for years, the better the scoring at major championships, the better the champion. Low scores identify the best player better than high scores and tough setups, where birdies are made only by accident, not by skill. The Masters has that figured out. The USGA, R&A and PGA have not.

MORFIT: I think what hurt the tournament a little was just how far out ahead of everyone Spieth got. It helped, though, that he’s American, young, gracious, and could win a bunch of majors.

MCDOWELL: I don’t think it’s possible to diminish the Masters. Only five players were in double digits, so no one was mistaking it for the Greater Hartford Open. Luke Donald said local knowledge did not play as big of a factor this week because the speed of the greens forced putts to break differently than in the past. That was the only detriment Spieth faced this week, and with it marginalized, he was able to run away with it.

BAMBERGER: TV loves the low scoring, and the powers at Augusta National love TV. The club is on a grow-the-game mission and it needs TV. I miss the firm, fast greens, but you had great names on the big board, and some great shots. I’m cool with it.

RITTER: I thought the low scores took a little steam out of this year’s event. The most thrilling Masters happen when there are dramatic moves both up and down the leader board, and this week guys just went low and lower. Tiger’s 18-under is more impressive than Spieth’s because it was a 12-shot win, but that doesn’t diminish what Spieth accomplished this week. Going wire-to-wire at the Masters is rarefied air. Even Tiger hasn’t done that.

PASSOV: More refreshing than depressing. Sure, we’ll look back in 5, 10 or 20 years and remember the “soft” conditions in 2015 that helped produce record scores. However, we’ll also see a leaderboard of hall-of-fame quality. Who really cares if 8-under (Bubba in 2014) or 18-under got it done? Mind you, I don’t quite understand (nor did anyone explain) why the greens and their surrounds were softer and hence more forgiving than normal. Yes, there were rains on Tuesday, but Augusta National could have easily dried the place into the preferred degree of crustiness. Odd conditions and scores, yet not unwelcome.

GODICH: I’d prefer to appreciate the spectacular golf we witnessed by a rising star. I don’t think there’s any way to diminish what he did.

MARKSBURY: I loved the fact that Augusta’s roars were restored. It’s always great to see the world’s best making eagles and birdies. And look at the leaderboard! What an incredible collection of names. The cream rose to the top, and more power to Jordan for dominating the way he did when so many other guys were going low.

SENS: As they say, everyone plays the same course, so nothing in the setup diminishes what Spieth did to the field. As for what he did to the course, sure, it was softer than usual and the pin positions on Sunday left the back nine ripe for the taking, but that’s what we tune into the Masters for: pyrotechnics down the closing stretch. I have no problem with that.

4. Did Tiger Woods prove to you this week that he’s solved his short-game woes and gotten back to a place where he can contend the rest of this PGA Tour season?

SENS: The sharpness of his short game seemed to surprise everyone but Tiger, and he sure sounded optimistic about where he’s headed. Then again, his self-assessments are always rose-tinted. The game Tiger showed this week could put him into contention on certain courses, but he wouldn’t want to bring Sunday’s tee-to-green play to a U.S. Open. You get the impression that Tiger’s game has become something like a round of Whack-a-Mole. Knock down one problem, and another one pops up.

MORFIT: His transformation from Torrey Pines to Augusta was stunning, but it’s so hard for me to get excited about another Tiger comeback even if I want it to happen. Every time we go down this road something happens to his knee or his back or his misfiring gluteus maximus or, on Sunday, his arm when he hit a tree root. When was the last time we saw him play four rounds without an injury? This guy has to be the most injury-prone character since Wiley E. Coyote.

BAMBERGER: If the phrase “the rest of the PGA Tour season” means the three remaining majors and maybe three or four other events, than yes. Tiger will play fewer and fewer events in the future, so that he can play more soccer with his kids, tend to his other interests and command bigger appearance fees when he does play overseas.

PASSOV: I know I’m a bit of a Tiger suck-up, mostly because I know his successes are so critical to our industry’s business fortunes, but this should go down in history as one of his greatest achievements. Few predicted he would make the cut and absolutely no one entertained the idea that he would contend. A few big media names fretted that Tiger would humiliate himself even worse than he did at Phoenix, given Augusta National’s short-game challenges. Tiger answered emphatically that he has found it again. He’ll have to improve his driving — and consistency — to contend the rest of the year, but wow — he entered the final round of the Masters T5. That bodes nicely going forward.

MCDOWELL: Tiger managed to follow some vintage Tiger shots – the ones where he picks up the tee before the ball has even reached its apex – with some truly atrocious shots. It’s a minor miracle he shot 69-68 Friday and Saturday. I don’t think a case can be made that he can put four rounds together to actually win a normal event, much less a major, and it’s because of the driver.

VAN SICKLE: I was surprised and impressed by Tiger’s play. The only thing missing for him is getting a tee ball in play and then he’s dangerous again.

GODICH: The good news is that Tiger seems to have solved his short-game woes. The bad news is that he’s still hitting it all over the lot off the tee. It’s remarkable that he contended, considering the spots he played from. Tiger’s still a work in progress, but I have to say I’m stunned by what he accomplished this week.

MARKSBURY: Yes, absolutely. What a difference two months makes. Tiger has clearly been working hard, and this week was an enormous success for him. Here’s hoping he stays healthy and uses this performance to gain some momentum for the rest of the major season.

RITTER: Can’t believe I’m saying this, but yes, I think Tiger has defeated the yips (or at least momentarily bludgeoned them). Health and desire permitting, I think Tiger can build on the Masters and possibly win this year.


5. Phil Mickelson shot 67-69 on the weekend and finished tied for second, his best showing since his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship. How bullish are you on Phil’s U.S. Open chances after watching him at Augusta?

RITTER: I’m bullish on Phil at Augusta for the next several years, but this year’s U.S. Open is tough to read. We know Phil desperately wants to finish the career Grand Slam, but Chambers Bay is a wild card as a first-time major venue that also happens to be an American links course. He could love it or hate it.

BAMBERGER: What I think Phil showed at Augusta is that he’ll play Augusta well for years to come and maybe even grab a late coat, a la Nicklaus. Chambers Bay is a whole different matter.

MORFIT: Someone should print T-shirts: What happens at “Augusta stays at Augusta.” Chambers Bay is completely unlike Augusta National. Most places are completely unlike Augusta National. If there’s relatively calm weather, I actually like Phil’s chances at bomber-friendly St. Andrews better.

VAN SICKLE: Phil has never figured out a way to be consistent. So just enjoy his incredible showing, which featured his usual barrage of birdies and his usual number of mistakes, and know that he’s not done yet, he can still challenge in a major championship at 44. Until this week, we weren’t sure.

SENS: Predicting what Phil is going to do in any given event is like trying to forecast conditions for the Open Championship, which, come to think of it, this U.S. Open venue will resemble. I think he’ll contend. But I’m even worse than your weatherman. I’m not even right half the time.

PASSOV: I fancy Phil’s chances at the U.S. Open. He peaks at major time, no matter how he’s been playing in the lead up. He’s a happy guy when there’s width in the fairway corridors and Chambers Bay will definitely provide ample room off the tee. He’s long been a short-game wizard, and Chambers Bay’s links-like qualities will provide many opportunities for imaginative chipping. Look for Lefty to contend on the Left Coast in 2015.

GODICH: No place gets Phil’s blood pumping like Augusta National, and it’s no secret that his game is geared toward the major championships. But none of us can begin to predict how he will fare at Chambers Bay. That’s what makes him so intriguing. Phil being Phil.

MARKSBURY: I love seeing Phil rise to the occasion. Majors seem to bring out the best in him, and Peter Kostis recently told me that Chambers Bay may be the best chance Phil has to win a U.S. Open because of the premium the course places on short game performance — Phil’s specialty! I think that’s as good a reason as any to look forward to Phil’s next attempt to complete the grand slam in June.

MCDOWELL: He might be physically present at other PGA Tour events leading up to Chambers Bay, but the only thing on his mind is the U.S. Open. He’s gained more than 10 yards off the tee in the last two years thanks to weight loss and a focus on clubhead speed, and even if he’s middling 15 weeks out of the year, for four weeks of the year, he’s still Phil.

6. Ben Crenshaw shot 91-85 and was well outside the cutline in his final Masters. Do you like to see former champions take a farewell lap around Augusta even if they can’t contend?

GODICH: I followed Ben for a couple of holes on the back nine on Friday afternoon, and it was exhilarating, to say the least. There were standing ovations on every tee box, along every fairway, at every green. It was a fitting way to honor a two-time champion. And as long as an old-timer isn’t taking a spot in the field from another player, what’s the harm? Finally, I’d say Ben picked the perfect year to say goodbye, passing the torch to a fellow Texan.

SENS: The farewell lap is great stuff. What I could do without is CBS lingering for painfully pregnant moments as the player works his way toward his final putt. Do we really need to watch a Masters champ slap his way toward a double bogey? Show us the final putt, and spare us the awkward buildup to that one last bow.

MORFIT: I’m all for sentimentality, but somehow it seems as if that type of farewell should be reserved for the Par 3 Contest or some other forum. If the Masters is a serious tournament, and it is, why keep people in the field who admit they have no chance of winning? It seems odd.

PASSOV: With me being a golf history and architecture guy, there are few golfers for whom I have more affection than Ben Crenshaw. As an old-timer, I remember how emotional it was for Ben finally to get that major win — in 1984 — and his 1995 “This is for Harvey” victory was no less wrenching. Yes, he deserves the farewell lap. It was a little weird in Round 1, when Crenshaw at age 63 shoots 91 and Tom Watson at age 65 shoots 71, but so be it. The Masters celebrates its veteran past champions like nowhere else. I love the tradition.

VAN SICKLE: Raymond Floyd just quit coming to Augusta. He didn’t need a victory lap. If you’re shooting 176 for 36 holes, you probably should’ve retired sooner but the Masters loves to celebrate its connection to tradition and old champions. There’s probably a way to do that without watching guys shoot in the 90s.

RITTER: The 91 made me a little squeamish, but his walk up the hill to the 18th green Friday was just so touching. I say we keep the victory laps but stop counting their score if it climbs over 85.

MARKSBURY: I hate the idea of Ben Crenshaw’s career at Augusta ending on such a sour note, score-wise. But he still obviously enjoyed the walk and the many ovations he received, so if he’s happy, I’m happy.

BAMBERGER: Oh, sure. You can and should play Augusta long after your prime. That’s part of the tournament’s charm and appeal.

MCDOWELL: If Ben Crenshaw wants to tee it up at Augusta and finish 32-over, then that’s his prerogative. Sandy Lyle hasn’t been relevant in the Masters since his victory in 1988. Yet he’s out here shaping shots all over the lot with a 1-iron, used a hickory-shafted putter and shot a first-round 74. And when he missed his 16th cut since his victory, he was out on the range Saturday morning beating balls. You can’t take that away from the man!

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.