AUGUSTA, Ga.— How fitting in the 79th edition of The Masters—when fellow Texan and two-time Masters winner Ben Crenshaw retired after 44 years of competition at Augusta—that the Lone Star State mantle passes to a 21-year-old who demonstrated steely resolve making fellow state and Masters champions of the past such as Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, and Jimmy Demaret smile from afar—nodding with approval.
The defining moment came early for Jordan Spieth—at the opening hole of the always pressure-packed final round. Going into Sunday with a four-shot lead the specter of what can happen hangs on any golfer—most notably those searching for their first green jacket. Nerves are always an issue when the final round of any major is set to start and Spieth as the overnight leader admitted as much after play concluded.
Paired with 2013 U.S. Open Champion Justin Rose—both men hit fine approach shots to the opening hole. Rose putted first from 15 feet and dropped the putt. Now, the pressure shifted to Spieth—seeing his four-stroke margin cut to three—at least momentarily.
If any situation showed whether the 21-year-old Texan was prepared for the final round of golf’s first major it was now at-hand. Spieth responded with declaratory resolve—sinking the 10-footer. The same situation again happened at the par-5 2nd—Rose birdied—Spieth responded again.
For the duration of the day—the lead was never less than three shots and at various times Spieth was more than up to the task in showing all competitors the crucial lessons he learned from last year—when he tied for second behind winner Bubba Watson.
Spieth captured his first major championship and did so with a record tying four-round total of 270—matching the record set by Tiger Woods when winning the 1997 Masters. Spieth’s win was convincing and thorough. Remarkably, Spieth becomes just the fifth player to have won wire-to-wire over 72-holes—the first since 1976 when achieved by Raymond Floyd. How good was his golf? Spieth made a record 28 birdies—three more than the previous record held by three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson in 2001.
Incredibly, the second youngest winner of the Masters has only played eight competitive rounds at Augusta National. After coming up short last year Spieth said at his post event press conference in 2014 how he looked forward to getting back in 2015 and going beyond where he ended that time.
His performance this year showed the world of golf has indeed turned a clear page—one in which the next generation of talented young men is ready to carry the banner forward.
Going into this year’s Masters, the major discussion centered upon world No. 1 player Rory McIlroy. The 25-year-old Ulsterman had won the last two majors in 2014 and a win at Augusta would elevate Rory into a club that is golf’s most exclusive club—career Grand Slam winners. McIlroy got off to a slow start and for a time on Friday’s second round there was question on whether he would survive the 36-hole cut. McIlroy played superlative golf for the final 63 holes—shooting 15-under-par and settling for a tie for fourth. The likelihood of epic duels between McIlroy and Spieth appears set to grow as both are near each other in age and ranked 1–2 in the world respectively.
The Englishman Rose who had been out of action for a time this season tied for second with Mickelson who resurrected his play—finishing among the top three at Augusta for the eighth time.
Despite all the efforts of the game’s finest players Spieth maintained control from the very beginning starting with Thursday’s first round of 64—making him the youngest first round leader and shooting the second lowest round to ever start a Masters. However, a pivotal point came with the end of the third round at the 18th hole. After a double-bogey at the 17th hole, Spieth played a loose approach iron to the right of the 18th green. The Texan then played a miraculous pitch shot that struck the ground softly and finished approximately 6 feet from the hole. Once again Spieth rose to the occasion—the putt was true and the four stroke lead was maintained. How things might have been if that putt was not sunk will never be known.
When approaching the final hole Spieth had an opportunity to hold the 72-hole record all alone but a closing bogey did little to dampen the sheer brilliance of his play. The Masters win marks the second PGA Tour triumph this year and Spieth’s high level play has been ongoing for a good bit of time now. Winning the 2014 Australian Open with a closing 63 when no other player broke 70 foretold what he was certainly capable of producing this week in Georgia.
The new Masters champion is rightly hailed by his fellow competitors for being a fine young man and for a maturity that clearly belies a 21-year-old. In his teens Spieth was captured on videotape stating a golf goal of his was to win the Masters. That is now done. Count on new goals being set and for him to be clearly in the mix of golf’s biggest events for a number of years to come.
M. James Ward, a member of Golf Writer’s Association of America (GWAA) and past member of Met Golf Writer’s Association (MGWA), has reported on golf’s grandest events since 1980 in a variety of forums.