AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - The ecstasy of Danny Willett’s three-shot victory at the Masters on Sunday will forever be linked to the eye-popping agony of Jordan Spieth’s stunning collapse on the back nine at Augusta National.
Renowned for his mental toughness under pressure and already the winner of two major titles at the tender age of 22, Spieth was seemingly poised for a second successive Green Jacket after storming five strokes clear with nine holes to play.
That Spieth then went bogey, bogey, quadruple-bogey through 10, 11 and 12 to drop three shots off the pace was one of the most astonishing scenes ever played out at a major championship, and begs the question of how he will handle such a meltdown.
“If you would have told anybody in the golfing world that Jordan Spieth, with the lead, would make seven birdies on Sunday at Augusta and loses, they would have said you’re crazy,” said former world number one David Duval.
”This is going to add some scar tissue for Jordan Spieth. He got to the 10th tee and the wheels just came off. This is either one of the things that is going to make him tougher or it is going to be a hard thing to get over.
“This one got away from him and he is going to go back to the drawing board,” Duval said in his role as an analyst on Golf Channel. “He will sit down this week and say, ‘What happened and how do we not let that ever happen again?'”
Three-times Masters champion Nick Faldo, who clinched his third Green Jacket in 1996 after a dramatic last-day collapse by Greg Norman, agreed.
“This will scar him,” said the English former world number one, who was also renowned for his steely on-course focus while racking up six major titles during his Hall of Fame career.
”This will damage him for a while. We’re all in shock with what happened to Jordan. In ‘96 you got the sense that Greg was struggling, but it was bit by bit.
While Norman’s 1996 debacle was a slow burn after he started the final round with a six-shot lead and agonizingly watched it evaporate as he carded a 78 to Faldo’s superb 67, Spieth’s shocking collapse was brutal in its speed.
“What happened to Jordan, it was so sudden, just bam,” said Faldo. “It was 10 minutes of golf. That’s the harshness of it.”
Jack Nicklaus, who won a record six Masters titles, expressed the views of many with a sympathetic but encouraging statement on his website, saying: ”I think the whole golfing world feels for Jordan Spieth.
“He had a chance to do something truly special and something very few have done before - and be the youngest to accomplish that - and he just didn’t pull through.
“My heart goes out to him for what happened, but I know that Jordan is a young man who will certainly learn from this experience and there will be some good that comes out of this for him.”
Many insiders firmly believe that Spieth, who is wise beyond his years as a golfer, will be able to overcome the mental and emotional scarring of Sunday’s meltdown.
The young American knew all week that his game from tee to green was not at its best, and it was his brilliant putting above all that helped him lead after each of the first three rounds before failing to close the deal.
“I‘m very confident in the way that we play the game of golf, said Spieth, who consistently brackets himself with his caddie, Michael Greller, to emphasize the team approach. ”When we’re on, I believe that we’re the best in the world.
”I believe we were the best in the world getting by, for the most part this week, with what felt uncomfortable over the ball with my iron play.
“I hit some really good irons, but for the most part it was my ability to map out the course, my putting and my short game that pretty much had us in the lead. Big picture, this one will hurt. It will take a while.”
Spieth had been bidding to become just the fourth player to clinch back-to-back Green Jackets and the second youngest player in the modern era to win three major titles with only Gene Sarazen ahead of him. He should be just fine, in time.
Editing by Frank Pingue