Jordan Spieth tied for second at his first visit to Augusta – last year’s Masters – after having a two-shot lead with 11 holes to play. Whilst most young golfers would be satisfied with such a result, Spieth was not. “I was already hungry from last year,” he said. “I had an opportunity and watched it slip away.”
He arrived at Augusta this year having finished his previous two tournaments in second place – the most recent after losing a playoff. These runner-up spots had followed a win. The Jordan Spieth that drove down Magnolia Lane last week was the hottest golfer on tour – by some margin – as he took a 3-shot lead into day two.
By the start of day three his lead was five, courtesy of a second-day 66. For most of his third round he appeared well in control until he reached 17, which he uncharacteristically botched from the start to record a double-bogey.
Ahead of him proven major winners Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson had posted totals to close the gap; to four and five respectively. Spieth responded by sending his tee-shot down the middle of 18, but followed this up with an inexplicably bad shot blocked way right of the 18th green, right even of the green-side bunker.
He was left with two options; play a chip and run down the slope and through the grass, to the right of the bunker, hoping the ball would stop in time to leave him a par-saving 30-footer or more, or take on the more perilous shot and play a Mickelson-like flop shot that would require guts and skill in equal portions. Having just stuffed up 17 with a double, that he chose the latter option says a lot about this young man’s character. He played this most difficult of shots as well as possible, leaving an 8-footer for par – which he duly rolled in. Many observers were to comment later that that was where this year’s Masters was won, right there.
So started the final day, with the Spieth and Rose pairing preceded by Mickelson and Hoffman, who in turn followed two golfers called Woods and McIlroy. Leader boards don’t get much better than that.
Unlike most that preceded them, both Spieth and Rose didn’t use driver until the 7th hole. Three-woods on the first tee were followed by both putting their seconds pin-high, where Rose made an early statement in draining his birdie putt. Spieth replied in kind – no pressure then.
Rose birdied the par-5 second where Spieth took three to get down from just off the green. Lead now cut to three. Spieth responded by birdying the very next hole when draining a tricky 12-foot downhiller. Original lead restored.
By the tenth hole, the lead had gone to six. The next and last real pressure-point came at 16 where Rose had climbed back to four adrift and had a makeable 15-foot uphill putt for birdie. Spieth, following a bad chip, faced a treacherous 8-foot downhill “slider” just to save par. The possible two-shot swing never eventuated as first, Rose just missed the birdie putt, whilst Spieth, once again, made a difficult putt look easy and saved par. He was later to call this shot “the biggest putt I ever hit in my life.”
What then makes this kid special, apart from winning the Masters at age 21?
· The first wire-to-wire winner since Raymond Floyd in 1976.
· Beating Phil Mickelson’s birdie record of 25 set in 2005. Now 28: that is better than one birdie for every three holes. Amazing.
· Earning the 36 and 54-hole low-score records and equalling Tiger Wood’s lowest Masters Tournament total of 18-under par.
· Taking a total of 108 putts over four rounds: an average of 1.5 putts per hole, 27 putts per round. This on what most regard as the hardest putting test on Tour. He won it right there.
But these are simply golfing stats, the type that accompany many tournament winners. No, what makes Jordan Spieth different in golfing terms is that he wins without the power and length of many. He can also be wayward. But what he does, better than any other golfer currently, is get the ball into the hole.
That aside, what really makes Jordan Spieth stand out is the quality of the man. His character seems a mixture of humility and self-assuredness, mental toughness and empathy. His lack of hubris is marked, yet so is his confidence. His willingness to acknowledge his competitor’s good play, his mental strength and character, and the way he carried his 21-year-old self throughout the week, on and off the course, mark him as someone special.
When it was all over and he had finished hugging his caddie and his parents, Jordan Spieth then did something that I have never seen in many years of Masters watching. This 21 year-old who had just won the Masters walked away from everyone else and raised his hands to applaud those who had applauded him, the fans. He circled, all the while applauding the patrons surrounding the 18th green, in a gesture that clearly said one thing: thank you. This wasn’t the official awards ceremony where speeches are expected and made. He had yet to sign his scorecard. This was spontaneous, heartfelt and selfless. Amazing.
Jordan Spieth is a tribute to any and all that had anything to do with his upbringing. He will get an incredible following. Golf has a new champion, in more ways than one.