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It was 5:05 p.m., and Jordan Spieth was about to become the fourth back-to-back Masters winner. On the ninth green, he rolled in a 21-footer for birdie, his fourth in a row, and headed to the back nine with a five-shot lead.
The next 50 minutes remain a blur, both to Spieth and sports fans everywhere.
A bogey on 10. No damage.
A bogey on 11. Getting interesting.
And then came the 150-yard 12th, where all hell broke loose.
Spieth chose a 9-iron. The play was the center of the green, 20 feet left of the flag. He would explain later that he didn’t fully think through the shot, that he played it too quickly. It drifted weakly to the right, kicking off the bank short and right of the green and tumbling into Rae’s Creek.
That miscue at least was understandable – it’s the most precise, intimidating shot in golf. What happened next, however, was not. From 80 yards away – he moved farther back, so he had a full swing with a wedge – he hit his shot fat. Really fat. So fat it barely reached the hazard. He took off his hat in disbelief before his Titleist even splashed.
He rushed the next shot, his fifth, and found the back bunker. He did well to get up-and-down for a quadruple bogey-7. It was 5:48 p.m., and he had lost the Masters.
It’s a testament to Spieth’s perseverance that he gave himself a chance to force a playoff, needing a birdie on two of the last three holes to match Danny Willett. Then he missed an 8-footer on 16 after a brilliant tee shot. He finished three back.
What followed was a series of torturous events. The walk to the scoring building. The green-jacket ceremony. The makeshift presser behind the clubhouse.
Spieth handled all of those duties with his usual graciousness, but it was clear that his career had been irreversibly altered. He likely will capture another green jacket someday – his record at Augusta, after all, is 2nd-1st-2nd – but the lowlights from his Masters meltdown will be reviewed in perpetuity. Every year, every time he reaches the 12th tee, Spieth, his fellow playing competitors, patrons and viewers will flash back to 5:38 p.m.
Spieth would insist a month later that the collapse didn’t affect him, that it was just a bad shot at an awful time. He even won three starts later.
But there was a palpable uneasiness the rest of the season. His ball-striking was uninspiring, his results pedestrian, and at times, he was understandably defensive with the press, taking issue with the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately? media culture.
There was nothing wrong with his game, of course. He won three times, more than all but two players. But expectations were far greater, and that was our problem: Only 14 players have won multiple majors in a year; just five have won a major the following year.
A pure 9-iron, and Spieth likely joins that list.
April 10: Spieth to caddie: 'Buddy, it feels like we are collapsing'
Reaction to Spieth's Masters Meltdown
April 10: Willett interview: Feels empathy for Spieth
May 3: Spieth: The 2016 Masters will always come up
May 11: Spieth: People have moved on