For three holes Sunday at Augusta, Jordan Spieth turned into a 22-year pro from Dallas who suddenly found himself in the middle of the white hot pressure of Sunday at a Grand Slam. That was more than enough to let Danny Willett take command with a 5-under 67 and to capture the 80th Masters.
Spieth seemed to be in total control after finishing the front nine with 4 straight birdies and a five shot lead going to the back nine on Sunday at Augusta. But Spieth was never really in total control of his swing all week, and proved it by playing 10-12 at a disastrous 6-over par.
Normally Spieth's coach, Cameron McCormick, spends the first three days of the week at a tournament with Jordan. He then heads back to Dallas. Spieth held the 54-hold lead Saturday night, but obviously didn't feel comfortable about his swing, which had been erratic all week, especially off the tee. McCormick was brought back and was on the practice tee Sunday morning.
The first tip that perhaps he still didn't trust the driver was his use of the 3-wood off the tee on the front 9. He worked his way around and again proved to be among the best ever when it came to putting under the pressure of elite events.
But the driver again failed him on 10 and 11, and then came the most interesting (and dangerous) par 3 in golf. Jordan and his caddy, Michael Greller, spoke of aiming at the CBS camera to the left of the pin. Jordan aimed well left of the pin -- and dumped into the water to the right. That is such a poor shot with short iron in your hand for any decent golfer that I believe it shook him to the core and for the first time in his career he turned into a 22 year-old kid fighting his nerves.
His first recovery shot across the water was so far behind the ball he almost dug a ditch to Rae's Creek. That led to a quad 7, and a five shot lead was gone in a heartbeat.
After Jordan walked off of 12, letting about a dozen golfers back into the championship, CBS commentator Peter Kostis remarked that the last 45 minutes were, "like someone shuffling a deck of cards and they flew all over the place."
I hate the word choke; just hate it when used in sports. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that the historical significance of what Jordan was trying to do had to weigh on him. He was about to become the first golfer in history to win a Grand Slam event two years in a row by leading all eight rounds. He was going to notch his 3rd Grand Slam title in the last five.
The mental discipline shown by professional golfers is not given enough credit. It takes at least 4 ½ hours to play a round of golf in one of these events, and less than five minutes of that is spent actually swinging a club. That's a lot of time to think about where you stand, what are the weather conditions, what you need to do, what you shouldn't do, what you want for dinner, etc.
Make it to the back nine of a Grand Slam event, and even the best will breakdown at some point. Jordan's train wreck was spectacular and in front of thousands at Augusta and millions on television.
This will haunt him for a very long time, but he has already shown a maturity well beyond his years to indicate that he will overcome it. Finishing 1-under for the last six holes after the most humiliating moment of his life tells us that.