Whatever demons Jordan Spieth carries with him from his 2016 Masters collapse – and he insists he always will have them – he now can quarantine them within the memory of Sunday’s inspired performance at Augusta National, one that nearly earned him a second green jacket.
Spieth already has a reputation for uncanny exploits, including his epic rally in last year’s British Open at Royal Birkdale that enabled him to avoid another meltdown, European style. And there he was again, in the final round of the 82nd Masters, doing “Jordan things”, as they have come to be known. In this case, his latest “thing” was erasing all of a nine-stroke deficit to Patrick Reed that, if Reed had faltered, would have completed the largest comeback in Masters history.
Instead, Spieth had to settle for third place, his final-round eight-under 64 serving simultaneously as a useful message to his peers that he can never be counted out and as a gift to himself to assuage the pain of his collapse two years ago, when he coughed up a five-stroke lead at Augusta with nine to play.
The latter we can infer from his response to a question about the confidence he could derive from his 13-under 275 performance, two strokes behind Reed. Spieth’s active mind took him right to the 12th hole, where he sank a 30-foot putt from off the back of the green for his sixth birdie of the day. Now, why would that be?
Because on the way to gift-wrapping Danny Willett a green jacket in 2016, Spieth butchered that pernicious and haunting little par 3 with a quadruple-bogey 7 that featured dumping two balls into Rae’s Creek.
“What we did on 12 today was really cool,” began the 24-year-old Texan, who smiled when he saw his 9-iron reach dry land. “I mean that hole, even when I didn’t hit it in the water in previous years, I three-putted in 2015 for bogey. So, to play a disciplined shot, probably the most pressure-packed shot I’ve ever hit. Again, I had no idea where I stood, but still the Sunday pin at Augusta, and I know what I’ve done, and my history there. To stand in that kind of pressure and hit the shot to the safe zone, [and] to knock that putt in was massive for me going forward.”
“And in general,” he added, pulling out of his myopia, “this round was fantastic. I mean nobody’s going to have a great Sunday every year at Augusta National. To be able to have a chance to win this tournament five years in a row is really, really cool. And that’s how I’m going to take today.”
Spieth, who held the first-round lead with a 66, has finished T-2, 1st, 2nd, T-11, 3rd at Augusta. Though outside the top-10 last year, he began the final round in fourth place. So, yes, he’s a fixture on the leaderboard, one he has topped nine times already in 20 career rounds.
He almost made it 10.
Five birdies in the first 11 holes moved him into a share of second place, but when he got to the 12th hole, Spieth still lagged four strokes behind Reed, his Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup running mate in team matches. That changed with consecutive birdies at 12 and 13, the latter with a two-putt from 20 feet. Spieth also birdied the par-5 15th with two putts.
He finally caught his fellow Texan at 14-under par when he jarred his ninth birdie of the round from 35 feet below the cup at the par-3 16th hole. When the ball disappeared, he turned to caddie Michael Greller and with a stunned look on his face said, “Can you believe that?”
Rickie Fowler, his good friend, absolutely could believe it.
“Well, you come to learn that you have to expect just about anything out of him,” said Fowler, whose birdie on the 72nd hole allowed him to supplant Spieth for second place. “You never know, and don’t be surprised if he pulls something off. That’s just Jordan. He’s fun to play with. He’s fun to watch.”
Justin Thomas, another good friend who was Spieth’s playing partner Sunday, could believe it, too.
“Yeah, there’s a reason he’s Jordan Spieth, and he’s done all the great things he’s done,” said Thomas, the reigning US PGA champion, who was four-over on his final three holes and closed with a 73. “It’s not like it was the 100th-ranked player in the world doing it, it was a three-time Major champion, someone who’s won here before, someone who is a hell of a player and done some great things and will continue to. So it definitely didn’t surprise me.”
Spieth’s 64 tied the final-round scoring record held by six men. Oddly, only Gary Player in 1978 parlayed it into a green jacket. He adds that mark to a pair of record he holds – low first 36 holes (130) and low 72 holes (270, which he shares with Tiger Woods), both registered while winning wire-to-wire in 2015.
Spieth’s only blemish came at the last where he bogeyed after pulling his tee shot near the tree line. His ball clipped a branch and fell straight down. He still gave himself a look at a par, but his eight-footer burned the edge. It was only then that he looked at a scoreboard for the first time all day, staying true to his plan at the outset, which was, he said, “Don’t worry about the golf tournament itself, worry about playing Augusta National.
“I knew that putt was important,” he said of the par try on the 72nd hole. “Every putt was important coming down the stretch. I was pretty gutted when I finished and finally looked at the board. I want to hit that tee shot again right now.
“But it was still a phenomenal day.”
Having largely struggled this season, Spieth, who moved from fourth to third in the World Ranking with his performance, was buoyed by his closing kick. He should be. He has conjured magic many times in his young career. To do so in the final round of another Major is the ultimate validation of his dual gifts: talent and tenacity.
“From where I was two or three weeks ago to now has been probably the most successful couple of weeks I’ve ever had in my career,” he said with more than a touch of hyperbole. He’s enjoyed several successful stretches, including the first two Majors in 2015 when he added the US Open trophy to his green jacket.
Nevertheless, it was an important breakthrough, one he legitimately needed.
“I’ve proven to myself and others that you never give up,” he said. “Came out with idea of playing the golf course and having some fun. See what happens if something crazy happens. All in all, it was an extremely successful day. I would have taken it at the start of the day.
“With eight people ahead of me starting the day, to get that much help and shoot a fantastic round was nearly impossible. But I almost pulled off the impossible.”
Well, yeah. Because, you know, Jordan things.