The ripples of Rae’s Creek had barely subsided when Jordan Spieth disappointingly dropped a ball to play his third shot on No. 12 of The Masters on Sunday, still in control of his own suddenly shaky destiny.
Spieth, whose second coronation as Masters champ had seemed practically assured of 30 minutes earlier when he made his fourth straight birdie to move to 7-under-par and extend his lead to five, then did something the common duffer can easily relate to.
He chunked another ball into the pond like an everyday chopper.
And with it, his dreams of a second straight Masters jacket drowned on the shortish, but devilish, 156-yard hole of screaming terror.
After his unlucky 7, Spieth went from a two-shot lead to a near-impossible deficit to overcome. Danny Willett, who was on very few Masters draft boards as a high pick despite being ranked No. 12 on the planet, suddenly found himself thinking this: Would his green shirt that he unveiled right before his final putt match the jacket he was about to wear?” Or would it be a fashion faux pas?
When we later think back on the 2016 Masters, will it be more for the remarkable charge that Willett put on, an impeccable 5-under-par 67 that included nary a bogey, or Spieth’s mind-melting collapse, this from a guy who is the ultimate front-runner?
Given Spieth’s pedigree — and to have an eight-shot swing on the final nine holes seldom happens in any tournament — unfortunately the talk around the water cooler will be more about his three-hole brain cramp. He did rebound with two birdies shortly after as the young Texan has amazing resolve. He was 1-over-par for the day despite six birdies, as he lost the tournament at what is known as “Amen Corner.”
Willett can say “Amen” that he played those holes even.
But we can’t forget what Willett did, it isn’t fair to take away from his magnificence. The British Bulldog hummed along with five birdies and didn’t wilt once he assumed the lead. Fortunately it came late in the round, so he didn’t have much time to think about it. But he was nails once Spieth handed it to him and he didn’t drop it.
I have admiration for Spieth, how he handles himself. He was put in such a difficult situation Sunday night in Butler Cabin, having to put the green jacket on Willett that he had expected to add to his closet. Spieth’s mind had to be scrambled eggs and probably will be for the days and weeks to come. I have a feeling though given his intestinal fortitude, that he’ll get right back on the horse soon and be a winner again in the next few months.
My heart goes out to Spieth, but we’re actually kindred spirits. I unfortunately went through something of the same thing in the 2007 McPherson City Golf Tournament when I had a chance, at age 50, to win the title that had eluded me for so many years, like grabbing for a carrot dangling on a stick. I had a two-shot lead over the late Ray Hague with a hole left to play, which was No. 1 at McPherson Country Club.
I tried to play safe with a 5-wood off the tee and hit to the right, smack behind a tree. Knowing a bogey would still probably win, I chipped out to the fairway and then hit my third shot on to the green.
My par putt missed by 2 feet and I didn’t take a lot of time over the bogey putt as I didn’t want to think about it. I missed that and made a double-6, which sent the tournament into a playoff. And Ray, being the champion he was, won on the first hole as he stuffed his second shot within 3 feet on that same No. 1 hole I had just butchered.
It’s a haunting feeling and something that has stayed with me to this day. I never won and never will win the City as an individual, though I did win couple of City 2-Man championships with Cliff Hawkes, who did most of the heavy lifting.
But that’s not the same as doing it all on your own.