AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Jordan Spieth may have missed his chance to become the youngest Masters champion but the 20-year-old showed he could yet be a champion for the ages.
The baby-faced Texan belied his tender years with a stunning debut at Augusta National, finishing tied for second behind Bubba Watson after flirting with history.
Had he won, Spieth would have become the youngest winner of the coveted green jacket, eclipsing the record set by Tiger Woods when he won the first of his four Masters titles in 1997 at the age of 21.
He would also have been the first rookie to win at Augusta since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 but the fact that he came up short hardly mattered.
Barely out of his teens and still too young to legally buy booze in the United States, Spieth played like a seasoned veteran, seemingly at ease in one of the most intimidating sports events in the world.
“I was nervous but I enjoyed it,” he told reporters.
“I was embracing it and I was taking less club, I had adrenaline. I had a great time out there today.”
Spieth has been earmarked for greatness for years. He twice won the U.S. Junior Amateur title and finished 21st in his first appearance at a major, the 2012 U.S. Open, when he was an amateur.
Shortly after he turned professional at 19, he became the youngest player in 82 years to win a PGA Tour event and was named PGA Rookie of the Year in 2013.
“I’m very happy with the week, happy with the way my game is at going forward for this year,” he said.
“I’ve accomplished one of my goals this year, which is to get in contention in a major and see how I can do. Hopefully going forward, I can do that again. There’s still three more this year.”
Despite his incredible performance, the 6ft 1in (1.85m) Spieth was unable to hide his disappointment, believing he had the chance to win.
He birdied four of the first seven holes to lead by two shots but was unable to keep it going, slipping back with three bogeys, as Watson raised his game.
Spieth dropped a shot at the eighth when he three-putted, then another at the ninth when his approach spun back off the green and rolled down the hill.
He also made bogey at the treacherous par-three 12th, the middle leg of Amen Corner, when his tee shot rolled down a bank into Rae’s Creek.
“I’m very, very pleased, but no doubt it stings right now,” he said. “The only thing I’m thinking about is when am I getting back next year. That’s what’s on my mind, because it’s tough. It’s tough being in this position.
“Obviously I’ve worked my whole life to lead Augusta on Sunday, and although I feel like it’s very early in my career, and I’ll have more chances, it’s a stinger.
“I had it in my hands and I could have gone forward with it and just didn’t quite make the putts and that’s what it came down to.”
If Spieth continues on his steep curve, he could well be a major contender for years to come, leading a new wave of players challenging Woods as the dominant force in the game.
It was perhaps ironic that Woods was absent at the Masters this week, missing his favorite tournament for the first time in 20 years because of a back injury, when Spieth announced his arrival.
As his stranglehold on the majors has declined in recent years, a handful of players, including Phil Mickelson and more recently Rory McIlroy, have been prematurely anointed as his successor.
For most of his career, Woods’ main focus has been on beating the records of the men ahead of him, Jack Nicklaus and Sam Snead, but his biggest challenge could well come from behind.
“I felt like I could take a ton of positives out of this week going forward,” said Spieth.
“I feel like I’m ready to win. It’s just a matter of time.”
Editing by Tony Jimenez