It will be Jordan Spieth’s second consecutive shot into the water Sunday that I will remember long after the 2016 Masters is done – the one that he hid his head from after he hit it. Spieth knew where the ball was going before everyone else did.
Spieth couldn’t look. The rest of us couldn’t turn away as he lost a five-stroke lead in the final nine holes and ceded the Masters to an Englishman named Danny Willett.
This was another epic Masters meltdown. Another Greg Norman in 1996. Another Rory McIlroy in 2011. It was hard to watch. It was hard not to watch. Steph Curry, a good friend of Spieth’s, collapsed on the court during his warmup routine in mock agony when he was told that Spieth had hit two in a row into the water.
“Big picture – this one is going to hurt,” Spieth said. “It will take a while.”
Spieth lost the Masters on Sunday by three strokes to Willett because of that one splashy hole. In one of the Masters’ curious traditions, Spieth also had to be the man to place a green jacket on Willett’s shoulders because he had made that seven on the par-3 12th hole in the heart of Amen Corner.
Talk about awkward. Spieth actually had to give Willett his jacket twice – once in Butler Cabin, once in front of the public. In both cases, Spieth looked like he had just swallowed a worm.
Said Spieth: “I can’t think of anybody else who may have had a tougher ceremony to experience. ... I felt that I stood up there and smiled like I should.”
Spieth, 22, finally looked his age on No. 12. He had led the Masters for a record seven straight rounds until then – going wire to wire in 2015 and then leading through the first three rounds of 2016. He looked for all the world like he was going to run away with another green jacket at 5 p.m., when his lead had ballooned to five shots thanks to four straight birdies on the front nine.
“It was a dream come true front nine,” Spieth said.
But then came a bogey on No. 10, a bogey on No. 11 and the two watery graves on 12 – a 5-5-7 on the scorecard. Spieth said later he went away from his aggressive game plan, started playing conservatively with a big lead and took some “weak” swings. He had lost a lot of his confidence by then, only feeling good about his putter.
“Listen, I had my B-minus game tee to green, and I made up for it around the greens with my putter,” Spieth said afterward. “Ultimately, you just have to have your ‘A’ game every single part. I just didn’t have those iron swings, as it showed on the back nine.”
By the time the 12th hole was over, Spieth had gone from first to fourth in one hole. After that he never could catch up to Willett, a virtual unknown in America even though he’s ranked No. 12 in the world.
Willett got to superimpose his own narrative over the day’s events after that – he’s a new father, and his wife’s original due date was Sunday. He seemed like a pleasant enough guy who was quite shocked to be handed his first major championship on a platter. In the meantime, Spieth faded into some sort of mental oblivion familiar to any golfer who has had a really bad hole at a really bad time.
At one point, Spieth said to his caddie: “Buddy, it seems like we’re collapsing.”
And Spieth was. He knew it. But he couldn’t stop it from happening. He tried not to look, but ultimately he had to.
Spieth will win another green jacket. Maybe several of them. But this one will always be the one that got away, swallowed up by a small creek that is always hungry.