AUGUSTA, Ga. – Those prone to sentimentality or encumbered by hair-trigger waterworks should reach for the Kleenex now.
Twenty years after Jordan Spieth’s mentor and hero Ben Crenshaw won an emotional Masters following the death of his swing coach, Harvey Penick, the 21-year-old pulled off every shot that mattered and on every heartstring.
As Crenshaw was completing his 44th and final Masters on Friday a light splash of rain began to fall, thunder rumbled in the distance and the crowd gasped.
Sappy stuff, but the moment wasn’t lost on Spieth, who is every bit the sentimental soul. He’s the kind of guy who cherishes spending time with his special-needs sister, Ellie; doesn’t like to talk about how humble he is because that wouldn’t be humble; and corrected one scribe this week who asked him about “Ben,” with a pointedly polite, “You’re talking about Mr. Crenshaw, right?”
Ben Hogan, the quintessential Texan and two-time Masters champion, would have hated this. That is, the Hawk would hate the symmetry, the fawning and the niceties – not Spieth’s clinical, some would even say cold, dismantling of the 97-player field as well as the storied 18-hole field in record fashion.
One would imagine Hogan appreciating the kid’s second shot at the par-5 13th hole from 204 yards to 14 feet. “Go, go, go hard, go,” yelled Spieth, who would birdie the hole to go from four clear to a cool five-stroke advantage with five to play.
A heart of gold, the head of an assassin.
And the glare. Hogan – dubbed the Hawk for his icy gaze – would have loved that glare.
“When I first met him, I tell you, I'll never forget it. I looked right at him and he looked at me and I thought I was looking at Wyatt Earp. He just had that look about him, just wonderful,” Crenshaw said.
With eyes filled with tears the young man who would have been a senior at the University of Texas this year had he not gone the one-and-done route hugged most everyone in the family tree after putting out on the 18th green, and the enormity of his accomplishment closed in all around him.
In ’95, after his second Masters victory, the Gatlin Brothers serenaded Crenshaw on the veranda of the old clubhouse. On Friday, the group performed at his farewell party, bringing the house down with a chorus of “The Eyes of Texas.”
At this rate, the iconic tune will become Spieth’s anthem.
For the record, Spieth became the second-youngest Masters champion, behind Tiger Woods; set the 36-, 54- and 72-hole scoring records with rounds of 64-66-70-70, and became the first player in Masters history to reach 19 under par when he birdied the 15th hole on Sunday.
It was a dominant performance from the outset. Heading out in Sunday’s final group – just as he did last year – four strokes clear, he was expected to play defense.
It’s what 21-year-olds do with a green jacket hanging in the balance.
Instead, he birdied two of his first three holes and added one more before the turn to build his advantage.
Remember when Nick Faldo won the 1987 Open Championship with 18 pars on Sunday? Yeah, this wasn’t like that.
Justin Rose, playing with Spieth in the day’s final pairing, made a run with back-to-back birdies to start his round; Phil Mickelson tried to threaten on the closing nine with an eagle at No. 15, but they always needed help and as kind a soul as Spieth is he wasn’t interested in charity on Sunday.
Under that kind exterior is a player with an edge, a chip on his shoulder forged after he began the final round last year at the Masters tied with Bubba Watson only to card a 72 and join the bridesmaids. There was also last week’s playoff loss to J.B. Holmes at the Shell Houston Open to consider.
“I was already hungry from last year having already had an opportunity and watched it slip away and watched Bubba win and everything that came with Bubba being the Masters champion,” he said. “That definitely left me hungry.”
Spieth’s performance at least temporarily suspended the thread that the Masters had become a long-drive contest, won by those willing to swing with abandon particularly if they do so from the left side of the ball. But Spieth, like his mentor Crenshaw, won the Putting Invitational the old-fashioned way, on the greens.
For 72 holes, Spieth was nearly flawless on Augusta National’s flawless putting surfaces, holing crucial putts every time the moment called for heroics. None was bigger than his twisting 20-footer for birdie at the 10th hole to move six shots clear of the world and set the Masters record for most birdies in a week (26).
“He steps up to every putt and thinks it’s going in. He’s not afraid of any putts,” Spieth’s caddie Michael Greller said. “When he has nerves, that motivates him in a very positive way.”
That Mickelson was able to record his 10th runner-up finish in a major championship after more than a year of putting woes is a testament to Lefty’s abilities as a quick study.
Following an opening 70, Mickelson reconnected with putting coach Dave Stockton Sr. on Friday with predictably prolific results. For the week, he had just four three-putts and his putting average improved each day.
At 44, Mickelson continues to be reinvigorated by the smell of dogwoods and the lure of a fourth green jacket. What else could explain how a player with just a single top-10 finish in his last 29 Tour starts can play the year’s first major with such confidence?
“The fact is, I would have taken 14 under at the start of the week. I would have been happy with that,” Mickelson said. “I've played really well to shoot 14 under and I just simply got outplayed by a young player who just played some incredible golf.”
The other half of the marquee, Woods and Rory McIlroy, also began Sunday with great expectations but quickly settled into an inglorious duel for “B” flight honors.
The two had a best-ball score of 65, which still wouldn’t have been enough to catch Heir Jordan on Sunday.
Still, the high-profile twosome provided an interesting juxtaposition. McIlroy’s fourth-place finish was still well short of an appointment in Butler Cabin after he began the week on the cusp of the career Grand Slam.
“I wish I would have finished off a little bit better. But happy with how I played over the last couple of days,” said McIlroy, who, for the fifth consecutive year, carded a nine in the 40s at Augusta National on Friday. “I obviously left myself with a bit too much to do after 27 holes of this tournament and that's what really cost me.”
Likewise, Woods, playing his first event since he withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open in February, wasn’t reciting his “second sucks” motto following rounds of 73-69-68-73 to finish tied for 17th place, his first top-20 finish on the Tour since the 2013 BMW Championship.
“It was mostly positives,” said Woods, who had a brush with a tree root on the ninth hole that caused a few anxious moments but appeared unscathed afterwards.
“You saw the state of my short game at the time, because again I was caught in between two different patterns. But now my short game’s my strength again, which is good stuff.”
Of course, in retrospect he may become less optimistic considering how dominant Spieth was in just his second Masters start.
Not only did Spieth win in record fashion but he did so with a cast of contenders behind him that had collected a combined 10 major championships (not counting Tiger’s 14). But with last year’s finish – not to mention that runner-up in Houston – driving him, the nicest guy in golf turned in the meanest of performances.
“He wanted so badly to come back right away after what happened last year and we all believed in him,” Spieth’s father Shawn said. “You can see it in his eyes.”
Kind and caring, cold and calculating - it’s all in the Texas eyes.