AUGUSTA, Ga. – Coming into Sunday at the Masters, Jordan Spieth held a four-shot lead, and that was enough to ensure that this day would see a memorable story, one either of triumph at a young age or of gut-punch collapse.
With barely a doubt, Spieth delivered a triumph that will now have the entire golf world wondering if it hasn't just witnessed the second coming of ... Tiger Woods.
A lofty, if not premature comparison for sure, but consider this: Woods was 21 years old when he won his first major, the Masters, doing it in record fashion at 18-under par for the tournament. (No one had finished lower than 17-under before.) Spieth is 21, just a few months older than Woods was back in 1997, and won this Masters at 18-under.
What's more, Spieth became just the fifth player – and first since 1976 – to lead the tournament wire-to-wire, something not even Tiger has managed to do in his four Masters victories.
Spieth has said he's dreamed of playing in the Masters his whole life, which is inspiring but not quite as impressive when you consider the fact that he hadn't even reached preschool when Tiger won his first green jacket. So it's not like he's suffered long in pursuit of his dream. But after an opening-round 64 on Thursday, he's been carrying the weight of expectation for the entire tournament. (Maybe even longer than that, considering he finished second here in his debut last year and entered this year's tournament as one of the heavy favorites.)
Spieth had spent all weekend trying to outrun the best in golf, and by Sunday, the best in golf had marshaled for one last run at him. For sheer name recognition, the Sunday leaderboard ranked as one of the best in Masters history, combining the brand new (Spieth), the iconic (Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson), the reigning world No. 1 (Rory McIlroy), and the leading edge of golf's current generation (Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose).
Only Rose (four strokes back), Mickelson (five strokes), and Charley Hoffman (six strokes) had any realistic chance of catching Spieth. But when Augusta National announced highly favorable pin locations for the final day, ending a week in which Spieth had birdied virtually every hole on the course at one time or another, it was clear that only an exceptional effort would catch Spieth, and even that might not be enough.
Spieth ended the first day three strokes ahead of Hoffman, and no one would get any closer until the second hole on Sunday. At that point, Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open winner, had just drained his second birdie to open the day and move within three shots. But on the very next hole, Spieth birdied and Rose parred, and the lead jumped back up to four.
Woods and McIlroy, meanwhile, weren't able to mount any kind of early charge. The Johnsons (Dustin and Zach) put together the best runs of the rest of the field in the early going, but it was like trying to catch a horse at the Kentucky Derby with a half-lap lead. Even when McIlroy caught fire on the back nine, using four birdies to move him to 12-under for the tournament, the world's No. 1 was still not even close to contention.
The only person that could catch Spieth on this day was Spieth.
He wasn't perfect, but for every misstep, Spieth had an answer, and then some. He bogeyed two holes on the front nine, but birdied three. Rose, his playing partner, was never closer than three shots, and even then for only a few moments.
By the time they made the turn, Spieth, at 17-under, was five strokes in the clear, leaving only one thing in doubt: would he catch or better Woods' tournament record of 18-under.
On the par-5 13th, Spieth opted to challenge the frontside creek and go for the green in two.
"Go hard," he yelled at the ball as his approach flew through the air. It did, landed softly on the green and rolled to within 14 feet of the pin.
If there was any doubt – and there wasn't, not even with Mickelson lurking at four back – it effectively ended right then. Spieth made birdie, moving him to 18-under, and the quest to match '97 Tiger continued.
Another birdie at 15 put him at 19-under, somewhere no player had ever been in the 78 previous times the Masters had been played.
Only a bogey at 18 kept him from setting the record. Still, he tied Tiger's record of 18-under, and the green jacket was his.
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