Jordan Spieth's Masters hopes end in a watery grave

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Yahoo Sports

AUGUSTA, Ga. — A little more than two hours after bogey, bogey, quadruple bogey, a little more than two hours after he turned this place into an azalea-lined house of horrors, a little more than two hours after 7-under went to 1 and what was seemingly won went to done, Jordan Spieth emerged from the Augusta National clubhouse.

Sunset was coming fast as he headed to a Mercedes SUV, his courtesy car. He wore a blue Under Armour golf shirt, not a green jacket like last year, like, a little more than two hours earlier, he expected to again.

In the parking lot he ran into Nick Faldo, who exactly two decades ago played the Danny Willett role to Spieth's Greg Norman in all-time Masters meltdowns.

Jordan Spieth became just the second defending champ to lead after 54 holes and lose. (AP)
Jordan Spieth became just the second defending champ to lead after 54 holes and lose. (AP)

The two exchanged a few words and a hug. Then a couple guys in green jackets, representing the rich and connected members of this club, did the same. It was like a procession line at a wake. Everyone wanted to cheer up Jordan Spieth. No one knew quite what to say.

The 22-year-old just wanted to get away from this nightmare and get on with the mourning process.

"This one," Spieth said, "will hurt."

Jordan Spieth blew the Masters on Sunday in a way that was as unexpected and uncharacteristic as it was calamitous and cataclysmic.

At 5:05 p.m. Spieth hit the turn leading by five strokes, well on his way to consecutive, wire-to-wire Masters titles.

At 5:45 he was tied for fourth, dropping six strokes in a fury and allowing Willett, out of Sheffield, England, to seize a lead he wouldn't relinquish en route to a 5-under finish and an out-of-nowhere championship. Spieth came in at 2-under and in a tie for second place.

"It all happened very, very quick," Willett said. "It was all a bit surreal."

Surreal because Spieth is the most reliable player in golf, patient and prodding and seemingly incapable of being rattled. He led this tournament for a record 7½ consecutive rounds.

[Slideshow: Best of the Masters final round]

When he'd occasionally stumble with a bogey, he'd respond with a birdie. He was so slow and deliberate, especially on the greens, he tended to bring the entire swirl of pressure to a standstill as he drained another putt and another putt and another putt.

It was so relentless it was actually sucking the excitement out of the event, the boredom of the sure thing.

Earlier, just after Spieth birdied the seventh hole to move to 5-under, Wayne Gretzky stood on a hill overlooking the 10th hole. Down below, his future son-in-law, Dustin Johnson, was analyzing a putt. Across the way stood a big, hand-run scoreboard, with Spieth's name up top and reality staring back at the Great One.

"If Spieth goes to 6 …," Gretzky said to no one in particular but loud enough for anyone to hear.

The implication was obvious enough. Spieth goes to 6-under and this is over. If Spieth goes to 6-under, no one is catching him. If Spieth goes to 6-under, there is no way he was going to blow it.

This was realization, resignation, frustration.

Then Spieth did go to 6, courtesy of a birdie on No. 8. And then he went to 7, with a birdie on No. 9. Gretzky was gone by the time the scoreboard reported it, off with daughter Paulina to follow and support Johnson. By then, almost everyone figured the Masters was gone and destined for Spieth.

And then … well, and then Spieth hit into the sand on 10, into the woods on 11, into Rae's Creek on 12, into Rae's Creek again on 12 and then into the sand on 12, just for bad measure.

"I went bogey, bogey, quad," Spieth said. "I went 5, 5, 7."

He went right into the long shadow of that special brand of cruelty Augusta can produce.

"It was a dream-come-true front nine," he said of the 32 he posted. "And I knew par [the rest of the way] was good enough. Maybe that was what hurt me. Just wasn't quite aggressive."

He was hurt mainly on 12, mainly by that first tee shot. As Spieth noted, he had built a big enough cushion he could survive the first two bogeys. He was still in the lead, still 2-under on the day.

"We were still right on pace," Spieth said.

On the 12th green, in the heart of Amen Corner, staring 150 yards away at that treacherous little green across the creek, Spieth said he didn't "take that extra deep breath" to settle. Instead he grabbed a 9-iron and attempted a little cut shot that didn't make it, his Titleist Pro V1x hitting the far bank and rolling back into the water. He said he should have hit a draw.

"Right club," he said, "wrong shot."

There was a gasp of disbelief from the fans. Spieth was in trouble, gagging back toward a field that hadn't made much of a move on him. He was headed for another bogey. Spieth sensed it, too.

"At one point, I told [caddie] Mike [Greller], I said, 'Buddy, it seems like we're collapsing.' "

They both know the history of this place. They've heard the stories and seen the grainy video. Legend has it this tournament doesn't even begin until the back nine on Sunday, when across the generations the exact same pin placements have allowed epic comebacks and tragic falls.

Jordan Spieth slips the green jacket on 2016 Masters winner Danny Willett. (AP)
Jordan Spieth slips the green jacket on 2016 Masters winner Danny Willett. (AP)

Now Spieth, a year after tying the all-time tournament record score, was on the back nine on Sunday and starring in the wrong kind of Masters tale.

He promptly took a drop, 80 yards out, but it didn't sit preferably high on the fairway grass.

"It probably just wasn't a perfect lie," playing partner Smylie Kaufman said. "And [he] just felt he had to go down and get it. And what happened, happened."

What happened was Spieth carving a Texas-sized divot out of the Bermuda grass, a hacker's whack deep into the earth. It generated no force into the ball, which wound up dying an early death back into Rae's Creek. It never even threatened the green.

Jordan Spieth was now still in the fairway, laying four on a par-3 and soon, for the first time since 2014, no longer leading the Masters.

"I just hit it fat," Spieth said.

He would respond with a birdie on No. 13 and another on 15 before giving a shot back on 17. In the long run, it showed some serious heart and resolve. In the short term, it didn't matter. Willett kept cruising, posting a final-round 67 and never looking back.

By the end, with Willett celebrating in the clubhouse, Spieth marched off the 18th green to sympathetic applause, shell-shocked fans trying to pretend this wasn't as torturous as it was.

He wore a 1,000-yard stare, almost zombie-like, giving halfhearted fist bumps to fans trying to rally him. Soon he was headed to the green jacket ceremony, where he had been painfully relegated to a traditional ceremonial role. His hands were stuffed in his pockets, his cheeks puffing in and out with deep breaths, his face looking about ready to throw up.

He managed to gather himself and, like the most recent champion always does, pulled a new jacket, another jacket, what should have been his jacket, onto the shoulders of Willett. He even graciously smoothed out the collar for the new champ. He smiled. He handled it as well as can be imagined.

"Obviously happy for Danny," Spieth offered.

"But," he continued, "it was very tough."

That's Augusta. That's the Masters. Spieth has been here three times, with one win and two runner-up finishes. The old timers will say the victories may be toasted forever, but the pain of those losses never fade. Never.

A little more than two hours after bogey, bogey, creek, creek changed everything, Jordan Spieth stood in that gathering dusk, wishing for that Mercedes to take him away, and tried to make sense of it all.

"Boy," he said. "You wonder."

 

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