AUGUSTA, Ga. — What is it about Englishmen being there for the leader’s Waterloo on Sunday at the Masters?
Twenty years ago, Nick Faldo was there to scoop up the green jacket as it slipped off Greg Norman’s brawny shoulders, Faldo surging ahead with a Sunday 67 to conquer Norman as he lost a six-stroke lead with a closing 78.
Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club saw a similar dramatic implosion. Of course, being Augusta, there was someone with a dustpan and a green windbreaker (not to be confused with a green jacket) to clean up right after.
Jordan Spieth didn’t have his “A” game last week. He called it his “B-minus” game actually. He was hitting the ball all over the lot and getting away with it a lot thanks to his stellar short game. He was headed for the thick woods to the right of the No. 4 green when his tee shot caught a branch and plunked down next to the putting surface, allowing him to get up and down for a lucky-looking par.
Emboldened, Spieth then set fire to the course with a string of birdies on 6, 7, 8 and 9 that moved the reigning Masters champ to 7-under with a whopping five-stroke lead going to the back nine (or second nine as they like to say at The National).
Spieth bogeyed 10, bogeyed 11, a little sloppy but nothing to send out an S.O.S. over. Then he came to No. 12.
The 12th is a par-3, the shortest hole on the course at 155 yards, the centerpiece of Amen Corner, the signature and most photogenic hole Augusta National has got. Spieth liked it so much he spent a lot of time there Sunday.
Splash! His tee shot leaked right, hit the shaved bank below the green and fell back into a watery grave (credit Ben Wright for that one). He then dropped a ball in the fairway 68 yards from the pin and proceeded to splash another ball and maybe even some of his pelt-sized divot into Rae’s Creek. He put his fifth in a back bunker, then got on and quite easily putted for a 7. Quad cities.
You can’t find film of the Titanic hitting the iceberg, but you can find video of this debacle. You can also go to Masters.com, click on the Track feature under Spieth’s name and go to the 12th hole. A diagram of Jordan’s ball flights looks like a map of Delta’s air routes in and out of Atlanta.
Spieth dropped back to 1-under, having lost six strokes to par in three holes. At that point, England’s Danny Willett gave Spieth a “Thanks, mate,” and zoomed past en route to his Sunday 67 and a three-stroke win over Spieth and fellow Englishman Lee Westwood.
Afterward, Spieth had the root canal-like pleasure of putting the green jacket on Willett twice, once in the Butler Cabin and again outside in the putting green ceremony.
“I can’t think of anybody else who have had a tougher ceremony to experience,” Spieth said.
Well, there have been others. The Masters loves drama and misery and breeds them both like well-cultivated azaleas.
In 1961, Arnold Palmer was the defending champion and led Gary Player by a stroke until he hashed up the 18th hole. Palmer made a double-bogey 6, handing the title and the green jacket to Player.
Palmer got him back with a Tiger Woods-like chip-in on 16 a year later. We’ll see if Spieth, who has gone second-first-second in his first three Masters, can orchestrate a similar recovery. He’s the first man to finish in the top two in three straight Masters since Tom Watson (who played in his final Masters this year) from 1977-79, but it will be interesting to see how the first true collapse of Spieth’s young career impacts him. Young golfers these days like to say “we” talking about their team: caddie, swing instructor, sports psychologist, agent, nutritionist, etc. But golf still comes down to you, the ball and the internal pressure you face.
As for Willett, who became just the third Masters champion to shoot a bogey-free final round of 67 or better, will he be overshadowed by Spieth’s wipeout? Of course. That’s the way these things go. Majors aren’t won as much as they’re lost by someone. Willett played brilliantly on Sunday and deserves a great deal of credit. But considering his stature compared to Spieth’s, this will always be the Masters that Jordan lost.
Disasters at the Masters
It is said major championships aren’t won as much as lost. That was proved again Sunday at the Masters. Here’s a look at some major Masters misery:
Winner: Gary Player (-8)
Runners-up: Arnold Palmer, Charles Coe (-7)
Palmer had a one-stroke lead on Player going to No. 18 when he hit into a greenside bunker, thinned his third shot across the green, chipped back long and two-putted for a double bogey. Player became the Masters’ first international champion.
Winner: Bob Goalby (-11)
Runner-up: Robert de Vicenzo (-10)
An 18-hole playoff loomed until de Vicenzo signed his scorecard with a 4 on No. 17 when he made a birdie 3. By rule, the higher score had to stand. Tommy Aaron, de Vicenzo’s playing partner and scorekeeper, won the 1973 Masters.
Winner: Fuzzy Zoeller (-8, playoff)
Runners-up: Ed Sneed, Tom Watson (-8)
Sneed held a five-stroke lead entering Sunday’s final round but stumbled home with three straight bogeys to set up the Masters’ first sudden-death playoff. All three golfers birdied the 10th before Zoeller, a Masters rookie, won with a birdie on the 11th.
Winner: Nick Faldo (-5, playoff)
Runner-up: Scott Hoch
Faldo chased down Hoch with a final-round 65, forcing a playoff. On the first extra hole, the 10th, Faldo bogeyed from a bunker. Hoch, who hit the green, three-putted, missing a 2-foot par putt. Like Zoeller, Faldo birdied the 11th to win.
Winner: Nick Faldo (-12)
Runner-up: Greg Norman (-7)
Norman opened with a record-tying 63 and led Faldo by six entering the final round. But Norman slowly collapsed with a 78 while Faldo charged past with a 67 to win his third green jacket. Afterward, Faldo hugged Norman out of sympathy.
Winner: Danny Willett (-5)
Runners-up: Jordan Spieth, Lee Westwood (-2)
Defending champion Spieth’s four straight birdies gave him a five-stroke lead going to the back nine at 7-under. He bogeyed 10 and 11 then made a 7 on the par-3 12th, hitting two in the water. Like fellow Englishman Faldo, Willett charged past with a brilliant 67.