The Masters show: Jordan spieth thrilled fans with what he did

There’s an old saying that goes, “The Masters doesn’t really begin until the leaders start out on the back nine on Sunday afternoon.” This year, that was where the tournament more or less ended. When Jordan Spieth holed out from just off the green, to the left of the tenth hole, he moved six shots ahead of Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson. For a player of Spieth’s quality and steadiness, half a dozen shots is a huge lead, and despite the best efforts of the television commentators to insist that it wasn’t over, we all knew it was.

Spieth, at the age of twenty-one, was heading for the first wire-to-wire victory at Augusta National since Raymond Floyd won in 1976. With his birdie at the tenth, he set the record for most birdies at the Masters—twenty-six, later extended to twenty-eight—and, at eighteen under, he was tied for the lowest score under par in the tournament’s history. After blocking the ball into the tree to the right of the eleventh, which is probably the hardest hole on the course, he hit a low bullet to the right of the green, chipped to within a few feet, and holed the putt for a par save. The coronation march was on.

In truth, it began on Thursday, when Spieth went on a run of six birdies across seven holes, on his way to a sixty-four that could easily have been a course-record score of sixty-two. On Friday, he followed up with a sixty-six, which left him at fourteen under par heading into the weekend, another record. With Spieth five shots ahead of the journeyman Charlie Hoffman and seven shots ahead of Rose, the tournament looked like his to throw away. Apart from a few twenty-minute periods on Saturday evening, when he double-bogeyed on the seventeenth hole and then got into some trouble on the eighteenth, which he played his way out of, it never appeared as though he would relent. From start to finish, he thoroughly dominated the Masters.

On Sunday, showing the preternatural calm for which he is already famous, Spieth birdied two out of the first three holes, which neutralized an equally strong start by Rose. His only wobbles came on the fifth and the seventh, which he bogeyed, allowing Rose to get within three shots. But birdies on the eighth and the tenth restored Spieth’s margin of safety.

By the time Spieth and Rose, who were paired together, reached the par-five fifteenth, which is fronted by a pond, Rose had managed to chip the lead back down to four shots. Once again, Spieth hit a towering second shot over the water, which set up another birdie, his fifth of the day, and moved him to nineteen under par. That represented yet another record: the lowest score in relation to par that anybody has achieved at any point during the Masters. (In 1997, Tiger Woods shot eighteen under par.) On the short sixteenth, he made a good par save, which virtually closed it out.

Golf of the very highest order, which is what Spieth played for much of the tournament, is impressive rather than exciting to watch. The ball proceeds from the tee box to the fairway to the green to the hole without much interaction with the bunkers, trees, or other hazards that interfere with the progress of ordinary players. It is tempting to say that the game is made to look easy, but anybody who’s ever tried swinging a club knows that this is an illusion. Hitting a long iron onto a green from two hundred and twenty-five yards, over water—as Spieth did during the final round on the famous par five thirteenth, chalking up another birdie, to offset a rare three-putt on the par-three twelfth—is a nerve-jangling exercise even for the greatest players.

On Sunday, it should be said, Spieth didn’t need to bring his very best stuff. The course was soft enough to stop balls on the greens, which is a rarity on the weekend at Augusta. That made it beatable—in theory. Several players who went out early, including Ian Poulter and Hunter Mahan, shot sixty-sevens, five under par. But the players who were within striking distance of Spieth—Rose, Mickelson, and Hoffman—never really looked as though they would shoot a round in the low-to-mid sixties, which is what it would have taken to put real pressure on the leader. Rose, who played in the last group with Spieth, played pretty well and shot two under par, but he needed to go lower than that. Mickelson shot three under par while Hoffman went two over. In the third-to-last group, Rory McIlroy had a strong round, with a six-under-par sixty-six, but he started the day ten shots back.

In my previous post about Spieth, I noted that his youth belies the fact that he has been a standout player at every level of the game. During its telecast, CBS showed a film of him at the age of fourteen, in which he said that his goal was to win the Masters. In 2009 and 2011, he won the U.S. Junior championship, making him the only person except Woods to win more than once. In 2012, he competed in the adult U.S. Open as an amateur and finished tied for twenty-first, a performance that augured great things. All along, he showed great determination and a killer instinct.

On Saturday night, Spieth said that he had grown a little anxious at times during his third round, but “overall kept it together with the putter.” During Sunday’s round, he showed virtually no sign of nerves. As he walked up to the eighteenth green, the spectators (sorry, “patrons”) hailed golf’s newest superstar—an American one at that—whereupon he played his worst putt of the week, a weak push that didn’t get anywhere near the hole. It didn’t matter, of course. His mom, dad, brother, girlfriend, and grandparents were waiting for him behind the green, and a Texan celebration was about to begin.

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