Spieth sputters, Willett wins!
By Stephanie Wei under The Masters

The Masters doesn’t begin until the back nine on Sunday. Ain’t that the truth. However, as Jordan Spieth, who became the first player to lead the Masters in seven straight rounds, made the walk from nine green to 10 tee, he held a five-shot lead at seven-under, closing out the front nine with four straight birdies. It simply didn’t seem fathomable that he, the Golden Child with his talent and steely composure, could possibly lose the tournament.

It’s been a couple of hours, but it’s still hard to wrap your head around the events that unfolded at Augusta National in the final round. Did Spieth seriously just have one of the biggest meltdowns in golfing history? It was absolutely shocking. I’m still picking up my jaw from off the ground.

“It was a dream come true front nine,” said Spieth, the defending champion, who was looking to become the first to successfully defend his title since Tiger Woods did so in 2001-2002 and the first to ever win two straight Masters titles leading wire-to-wire.

Even after opening the back nine with two straight bgoeys, Spieth was still in control as he stepped up to the par-3 12th. But then, the unthinkable happened. Spieth, with a 9-iron in his hands, chunked his tee shot into the water. Oh, no, were the wheels coming off?

It’s still okay, though. Until he took his drop and chunked another shot into the water. You could see the steam blowing out of Spieth’s ears at this point. He dropped again and this time knocked his wedge into the back bunker. He managed to get up-and-down from there to card a quadruple-bogey 7, which would effectively end his attempt to win a second green jacket.

“I knew the lead was 5 with nine holes to play,” said Spieth. “And I knew that those two bogeys (on 10 and 11) weren’t going to hurt me.  But I didn’t take that extra deep breath and really focus on my line on 12.  Instead I went up and I just put a quick swing on it.”

Similar to 2014 when he dunked his tee shot in the drink on the 12th to end his first Masters campaign, he didn’t stay committed as he should have. He didn’t take that extra moment to really laser in his focus. And similar to 2014, he’ll likely learn from the costly mistake and do something crazy stupid impressive to make up for it, but that doesn’t make this any easier.

“Boy, you wonder about not only just the tee shot on 12, but why can’t you just control the second shot, you know, and make 5 at worse, and you’re still tied for the lead,” said Spieth.

“Big picture, this one will hurt.  It will take a while.”

That’s for sure. It will forever be remembered as one of the most dramatic meltdowns in major championship in golfing history — right up there with Greg Norman’s collapse in ’96 where he blew a six-shot lead and lost to Nick Faldo, who was fittingly the last Englishman before Danny Willett to win the Masters.

Spieth still finished T2 at a tournament total of two-under as he handed the green jacket — literally and figuratively — to Willett, who posted an impressive bogey, free, five-under 67 in the final round. Shortly after seeing the manual scoreboard put up a red “1” next to Spieth’s name, Willett hit a beautiful tee shot into the par-3 16th, and then, made the putt to get to five-under, where he’d finish, three clear of Spieth and Lee Westwood.

“I was waiting for someone to, as a little joke, to put a 7(-under) back up there (on the leaderboard,” said Willett, with a smile.

Spieth did his best to bounce back from the quad, with birdies on nos. 13 and 15, but a bogey on no. 17 sealed his fate, as Willett celebrated with his caddie in the scoring hut.

Willett, 28, always knew April 10th was going to be a special day. After all, it was his wife’s original due date for the birth of their first child. In fact, he almost didn’t play in the Masters and he wouldn’t have had his son not arrived early on March 30th.

“I always said that I wouldn’t come here if he wasn’t born by now, which stuck,” said Willett. “Fortunately enough, listened to my prayers and he came early.  But yeah, it’s just been the most ridiculously awesome 12 days I guess.  The words can’t describe what I’m feeling right now, but words definitely can’t describe how I was feeling last Tuesday when you get to hold, you know, something that me and my wife have made.  It’s just been incredibly surreal.

“I’m just looking forward to getting back home and spending some time with them.”

Willett didn’t arrive to Augusta National until late Monday, and he was the last player to register, so his caddy wore the number “89” on his bib — the same as Jackie Nicklaus thirty years ago when his dad won his history-making 14th major championship at the ’86 Masters.

“It’s just crazy, just surreal,” said Willett. “You know, words can’t really describe the things and the emotions.  You’re so much involved in what you’re doing when you’re on the golf course and, like you said, you do something special, and it still doesn’t sink in quite what you’ve achieved.

“I’ve won a couple of golf tournaments around the world, but this is ‑‑ this is just a different league.  It’s a major.  It’s the Masters.”

As if the shock of the loss wasn’t enough to process, Spieth was immediately whisked to Butler Cabin for the Green Jacket Ceremony, another tradition unlike any other at Augusta National, where the previous champion puts the jacket on this year’s winner. He handled it with grace, but it was a pretty uncomfortable scene.

“As you can imagine, I can’t think of anybody else who may have had a tougher ceremony to experience,” said Spieth. “Obviously happy for Danny.  More important than golf, he’s had a lot of really cool things happened in his life.  Like he said, maybe fate had it this time for him.  I certainly wanted to control fate, myself.

“But it was very tough given that it’s so soon after the finish and it was tough but I thought that he handled it with extreme class.  And I felt that I stood up there and smiled like I should, and appreciated everybody who makes this great tournament possible.”

And yes, it was as awkward as it looked to millions watching at home on TV.

“It’s about what it’s probably like watching from the outside,” he said. “I can’t imagine that was fun for anyone to experience, other than maybe Danny’s team.  And those who are fans of him.”

No, it wasn’t, but I’m sure Spieth gained an even larger following for how well he handled it.

“You can empathize,” said Willett. “He’s played great golf all week.  He’s second now in career people to be leading the Masters.  He obviously plays this golf course incredibly well, he’s had a 2, a 1 and a 2 at (the 3 Masters) he’s played it.  Today what happened was just a bad beat.  Them things happen in golf.  You don’t want it to happen in the situations that it happened in for himself.  It was one of them…

“He just said, ‘Really well played.’  He shook my hand like the true gent.  He said, ‘Really well played, awesome play today.’  He’s a class act to be able to hold face and stuff as he did, obviously hurting like I imagine he would be, just shows the character of the guy that you’re going to have up and around the world No. 1 spot for the next many, many years.”

Until the next…