Spieth fuelled by desire to exorcise Augusta demons
After 12 long months, Jordan Spieth will finally have the chance to exorcise his Augusta demons at the Masters this week.
Augusta is a fascinating juxtaposition – a course of such sublime beauty but a beast that has swallowed up and spat out a number of golfing greats … just ask Rory McIlroy.
Yet Spieth was a man who had consistently made a mockery of the beast, who had played Augusta with the ease of a holiday camp pitch-and-putt.
A second-place finish as a rookie in 2014 was followed 12 months later by a stunning wire-to-wire victory, which saw Spieth’s aggregate score of 270 tie the record set by Tiger Woods’ seemingly unbeatable effort in 1997.
History was repeating itself in almost unthinkable fashion in 2016. For three rounds Spieth led the way with his unerring – at times unnerving – calm, not even the prospect of a third-round showdown with McIlroy enough to throw him off course.
By nine holes of a now fateful Sunday the record books were being updated. A run of four birdies heading to the turn had Spieth five shots clear of Danny Willett.
It was inevitable. Spieth would become the youngest player to win three major tournaments, the first man to achieve back-to-back wire-to-wire wins at a major. A two-time champion in just three visits.
Instead, what unfolded was unfathomable.
The alarm bells, if not at full volume, were starting to ring after bogeys on 10 and 11, but it was at the 12th – slap bang in the middle of Augusta’s famed Amen Corner stretch – when the golfing gods stopped answering Spieth’s prayers.
Armed with a nine-iron, Spieth saw his tee shot come up short as his ball trickled back into the water. What followed defied all logic; a chunk straight back into the wet stuff, the ball sinking faster than Spieth’s dreams of a second green jacket. The cruelty was not over as he then found sand before finally scrambling his way to a four-over-par seven.
Watch @JordanSpieth’s final round in under three minutes. #themastershttps://t.co/DVVTzUlEmZ
— Masters Tournament (@TheMasters) April 11, 2016
Meltdowns are commonplace in golf. It is a sport without equal for its cruelty, its ability to make even the strongest characters become shrinking violets.
Indeed, Augusta was the venue where 20 years previously Greg Norman had capitulated in devastating fashion as Nick Faldo overcame a six-shot deficit on the final day.
This kind of thing just did not seem likely to happen to Spieth. And yet it did. Golf and Augusta had claimed another victim.
When the torment was over, when Spieth had been ushered away after his 72nd hole, when Willett had – deservedly – claimed a maiden major title, the golfing world gathered its collective breath to unpick one of the most shocking collapses in the sport’s history.
To his credit, Spieth was gracious in defeat, insisting that Willett had won the Masters as opposed to him losing it.
Make no mistake, though, Spieth presenting the green jacket to Willett will have been the toughest task he has had to undertake.
But the memory of placing that jacket on the shoulders of a new champion will be all the motivation Spieth needs to ensure the act is reciprocated come Sunday.
The collapse at the 12th will live with him forever, but such is Spieth’s character that the memories will also act as a driving force to ensure 2016 becomes a mere blip in a career that will yield several green jackets, rather than the year that defines him.
Lest we forget, Spieth is still only 23. What he has achieved already in golf is testament to his undoubted skill and single-mindedness.
It has been 12 long months for Spieth to stew on what happened, to answer the inevitable questions. But come Sunday it would be no surprise to see it as a worthwhile wait for redemption.