The new face of golf arrived Sunday at Augusta National in grand style.
Playing in his second Masters at the age of 21, Jordan Spieth became the second-youngest Masters champion with a wire-to-wire victory that was among the most dominant in tournament history.
One year after he faded on Sunday during his first Masters, Spieth finished things off with a 2-under par 70. His total of 270 ties the lowest 72-hole score ever at Augusta. That came after he posted the best 36- and 54-hole scores in tournament history, as well.
“All in all, it’s really cool,” said Spieth, who tied for second last year, his first at Augusta. “This isn’t an honor that’s carried lightly. The members of Augusta National and everyone who partakes in the Masters and is a part of the Masters, demands the most, the highest quality on and off the course from their champions. I feel ready to carry that baton.”
Spieth didn’t run away with the tournament. Major championship winners like Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose stayed just close enough on Sunday to keep it interesting. They tied for second, four strokes behind. Mickelson shot a 3-under 69 Sunday, while Rose – playing with Spieth – had a 70.
With apologies to fourth-place Rory McIlroy (12-under 276), the world’s top-ranked player who was attempting to complete golf’s career grand slam with a victory at the Masters, Spieth appears ready to take over the mantle of golf’s next superstar.
“He’s going to fly the flag for golf for quite a while,” said Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion who was Spieth’s final-round playing partner. “People were getting excited about that out there; you could tell.”
Spieth has played the Masters twice now and played in Sunday’s final group on Sunday each year. It is a course that suits him well but not necessarily in a physical way.
“I think (it’s) imagination,” Spieth said. “I like to see lines. I like to see shapes, and especially on the greens, I like putts that break. I like being able to kind of cast something out and let it feed in and be very speed-based. That’s what this course gives.”
Only Woods was younger than Spieth when he won his first Masters in 1997. And it was Woods’ 270 from that year that Spieth matched.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Woods said. “He’s doing all the things he needs to do. When he gets it going, he’s one of those guys that like Rory, who can go off and make bunches of birdies in a row. (Over a) nine- hole stretch, he may make six or seven.”
Mickelson and Rose, not to mention McIlroy and Matsuyama, played well enough to win in a normal year.
“Jordan really didn’t open the door,” Rose said. “And I didn’t really expect him to.”
Spieth saw his lead dwindle to three strokes three times on the first nine Sunday. But after a bogey on the par-4 seventh, he recovered quickly with a birdie on No. 8. That momentum carried through the rest of the cloudy afternoon.
Spieth didn’t blink during the second nine, where so many dreams of Masters glory on Sunday have perished. Spieth started the second nine at 17-under, then went to 18-under with a birdie on No. 10.
He probably put the tournament away on the 13th, a hole he birdied just minutes after Mickelson had done the same thing on the same hole, briefly cutting his lead to four strokes.
But Spieth said he didn’t feel like he had the tournament truly secured until after the 16th hole, when he made a tough par putt after Rose had birdied No. 15. Rose missed a birdie putt on the 16th that might have put extra pressure on Spieth.
“Before that, I still felt pretty comfortable,” Spieth said. “I still felt like I could walk up 18 stress-free. But on 16, when Justin had that birdie putt, then I had that slider for par, that’s when I really felt like it could get out of my hands if I’m not careful here.
“But I stepped over that putt, just trying to put good speed on it, feed it out there and visualize a line. That was certainly, I would call that the biggest putt I’ve ever hit in my life.”
Mickelson began the day five strokes behind Spieth. He was playing as well as he has all season (he hadn’t finished higher than 17th), no coincidence that it was at Augusta, where he has won three times.
“It’s not my motivation to go try to grind out wins week after week,” Mickelson said. “I want to zero in on the four or five biggest events. I’ve been fortunate to get some of my best golf out in those events when I focus on them.”
But even the roar from the crowd generated by a Mickelson eagle on the 15th couldn’t shake Spieth.
“He has the ability to focus and see things clear when the pressure is on,” Mickelson said. “He performs his best when the pressure is on.”