AUGUSTA, Ga. – Out behind the Augusta National press center there is a make-shift television set, with a podium, a Masters backdrop and a row of cameras.
In the gathering dusk of Sunday night, the TV folks had it all lit up, bright and inviting. There in the middle was Bubba Watson, with his cap off, his hair combed and a brand new green jacket shining under the high-wattage attention after winning the Masters for the second time in three years.
Jordan Spieth, escorted by a tournament official in search of a golf cart, came walking by this scene, like some kind of this-was-almost-your-life visual.
As he climbed aboard a green EZ-GO, he looked over at the reporters surrounding Watson and his championship jacket, amid the glow of that light, all breathlessly asking him about his greatness. That could've been his glow, his jacket, his greatness.
Instead Spieth took a seat, fiddled with an empty water bottle in his hand and was whisked away to wherever guys that nearly won the Masters go.
"I worked my whole life for this moment," Spieth lamented to his caddie Michael Greller as they walked up the 17th fairway, trailing Watson by three strokes and the Masters all but officially over.
It's a funny line, whereas Jordan Spieth is 20 years old, all his life isn't particularly long and if his performance here shooting 5-under par – to Watson's 8 – is any indication of his game, there will likely be innumerable moments to come.
The truth is they never forget the ones that got away, the majors lost, even if many victories are to come, even if trying to win the Masters in your first appearance here, just 16 months after dropping out of college, was improbable in the first place.
Except, when Jordan Spieth walked off the seventh green here Sunday, having carded his fourth birdie of the round and holding a two-stroke lead (8-under to Watson's then 6), it most certainly was probable.
The kid from Dallas was on fire. The moment wasn't too big for him. He was threatening to run away from Bubba, away from the field, right into Augusta history by besting a guy named Tiger as the tournament's youngest winner ever.
Then on eight a bad break bounce on a chip led to a bogey. Meanwhile Watson birdied. Tie match. Then on his uphill approach on nine, he hit a nine iron that reached a small ridge on the front of the green, where the ball seemed to stop in its tracks. Another foot forward and it would've trickled down toward the hole for an easy birdie putt.
If you want to say the Masters was won or lost in that very second, momentum and gravity conspiring to write the script as the gallery gasped at the possibilities, you probably wouldn't be wrong. Jordan Spieth's Titleist didn't go forward, it rolled the other way, 20 feet back down the hill. Spieth couldn't get up and down. Another bogey. All, conversely, while Watson slipped in another birdie.
[Slideshow: Bubba Watson claims his second green jacket]
At 4:10 p.m. ET, Jordan Spieth led the Masters by two strokes. At 4:50 p.m. he trailed the Masters by two strokes. He never again touched the lead.
Forty minutes of hell; 40 minutes that he will replay forever.
"Eight and nine were the turning points of the day," he said later.
Spieth is young but he is a man of poise and purpose, capable of dealing with great success or disappointment and then coolly moving on to the next shot, the next task. That's how he got here. That, not some cannon-shot drives, is the key to his game. He's just relentless.
Even when he showed frustration on the back nine as the tournament slipped away – as some miracle comeback shot didn't quite work out – he just quickly recalibrated for the next stroke and hit it well.
So there were no sobs after. There was no woe-is-me. He didn't blow the Masters, after all. He didn't gag. Plenty of others have, here, in spectacular fashion. Spieth shot an even-par 72 with just a single bogey on the back nine – this on a day when only three players under the pressure of contention broke par. He played fine. Just not as fine as Bubba Watson.
So when he came off the green at 18, found his mother Christine and father Shawn and gave them both a hug, he wasn't rattled or wrecked.
"He was better than I was," Shawn said.
"And me," Christine said.
"That's what parents do, how parents are," Shawn said, and that much is for sure. Their boy almost won the whole damn thing in a way, and on a schedule, that really no one, not even them probably, thought possible.
To see him go out there like that, to nearly have it, to control the lead and then watch it slip away so quickly gutted them even as they tried to appreciate the journey, the chance, the fight.
"I'm proud," Shawn said. "But second stinks."
Everyone around Jordan Spieth assumes he will feel the same, no matter how perfectly he handled the disappointment. His brother and sister were there for a hug, too. There was extended family, some buddies and his girlfriend. He just worked through it without emotion. Proud? They were all proud.
"Bubba made two great birdie putts [on eight and nine]," Greller, the caddie, said. "We just got beat. You're going to get beat. One guy is going to win the tournament …
"There's nothing to feel bad about. But it's going to sting."
Jordan Spieth waded into the greatest pressure cooker in the sport, on a hot day with a challenging setup and never collapsed, never fell apart, never hit it off the sides of cabins or through unexplored woodlands of Georgia.
Twenty-years old and this is what he coveted, not just a chance to win, but a chance to see if he was tougher than Augusta, tougher than the legend of the place.
"I was nervous," he said, "but I enjoyed it."
A bad bounce on a chip. An approach shot hit a fraction too thin to get over a ridge on the green. An opponent who never let up.
Hole eight. Hole nine. All gone.
Forty minutes of hell. Forty minutes from up two strokes to hugs of consolation – not celebration – and a cart ride off into the distance, Bubba and his green jacket sparkling under the television lights behind him.
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