Monday Scramble: Jaw-dropping Masters finish

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Jordan Spieth's hopes for a second straight green jacket perish in Rae's Creek, while Danny Willett fills the void to snag his maiden major title. All that and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Minutes, hours, even a day after the final shot of the 80th Masters was struck, the pervading sentiment seemed unanimous.

What the hell just happened?

As Spieth strode to the 10th tee Sunday afternoon, the tournament appeared to be on ice. Spieth had just rolled in his fourth birdie in a row, ballooned his advantage to five shots and seemed on the cusp of rewriting another few pages of golf history.

But there's no such thing as a sure thing, even for one of the game's best.

Willett left town with the green jacket, sure, but this week was always about Spieth. He strode down Magnolia Lane to be feted as the defending champ. He opened with a flawless 66 to stamp his name once again on the proceedings, then held the top spot for almost the entire rest of the way.

Almost.

But green jackets aren't handed out after 54 holes, or 63 holes, or even 71 holes. It's a lesson that many learned before Spieth was even born, and one that he was reminded of, the hard way, for the second time in the last three years.


1. Spieth's jarring collapse on the par-3 12th hole has been well-documented, as he strode the shortest hole on the course with a one-shot lead and left barely clinging to any hopes of victory. A quadruple bogey in the heat of battle tends to do that.

While Spieth largely lamented his tee shot, a "stock" 9-iron that he hoped to fade into a back-right pin, that wasn't the shot that cost him the green jacket. No, even though a potential double bogey would have dropped him out of the lead, he still would have held a viable position with a pair of par-5s on deck.

Instead it was his third shot that proved to be his undoing, a chunked wedge from 80 yards that seemed more likely to come from a pro-am participant than a two-time major champion.

Spieth stated after the round that he and caddie Michael Greller wanted to find a yardage where he could get some spin on the ball – an option the drop zone, according to Spieth, did not afford. But he never seemed entirely comfortable over the shot, which gave him an awkward angle to a tucked pin, and the result belied his perceived unsteadiness.

Hindsight remains a powerful tool, but had Spieth eked out a double bogey – which would have been his fourth double of the week – he probably would have left town with the green jacket still in tow.

2. Instead, Spieth could only shake his head as we were left to wonder where Sunday's performance ranks in the annals of major championship stumbles. The parallels to Greg Norman's collapse on the same hallowed grounds 20 years ago are too easy to pass up: both seemingly had the tournament well in hand, and both ended up losing to Englishmen – the only Englishmen to don a green jacket – who each rallied with sterling rounds of 67.

Of course, the big distinction between Spieth's runner-up and that of Norman's: Spieth will still get an invitation back to the Champions Dinner next year.

3. Norman famously never won another major after his debacle in 1996, and Arnold Palmer never won another major after coughing up a six-shot lead down the stretch at the 1966 U.S. Open. But recent history is a bit more on Spieth's side.

Consider that Rory McIlroy let the green jacket get away in 2011, surrendering a four-shot advantage on the final day, only to rebound and win the very next major at Congressional.

Likewise, Adam Scott watched the claret jug slip through his fingers at Lytham in 2012, but he came back to win the Masters the very next spring. They're refreshing lessons of resilience Spieth can hope to emulate as he gets set to defend another major title at Oakmont this summer.

4. The sting of his collapse will take awhile to abate. But when it does, Spieth's recent run in majors will stand as a rather impressive tally: Win, Win, T-4, second, T-2.



5. For Spieth, there was a little extra salt in the wound because as defending champ, he had to literally put the jacket on the guy who had beaten him for the title only minutes before. And he had to do it twice – first inside Butler Cabin for the television broadcast, then in a longer ceremony outside in front of hundreds of patrons.

It's a situation he knew entering the day was possible, but likely not one he expected to play out after making the turn with a five-shot lead.

"I can't think of anyone else who may have had a tougher ceremony to experience," Spieth said afterward.

The closest parallel would have been in 1954, when defending champ Ben Hogan entered the final round with a lead but ultimately lost in an 18-hole playoff to Sam Snead.

6. Even though the sting of defeat was more than fresh for Spieth as he welcomed Willett into one of golf's most exclusive clubs, the 22-year-old handled himself with both class and grace.

While we've seen plenty of superstars in other sports shirk from the spotlight after difficult defeats, Spieth endured the post-round ceremonies and stepped to the microphone to answer every question about what amounted to his worst golfing nightmare. It was a refreshing reminder of what separates him – and many of his PGA Tour brethren – from other athletes put in a similar spot.



7. While this will go down as the One That Got Away for Spieth, Willett was a deserving champion. A bogey-free 67 in the pressure-cooker of a final round at Augusta is no small feat, and he should be commended for taking advantage of his opportunity.

Willett was handed a surprising lead as he left the 15th hole, but he promptly strode to the next tee and stuffed it to 7 feet on No. 16 to give himself a little cushion. That, more than any other shot he himself struck, will likely be remembered as the one that really won him the tournament.

8. Perhaps we should have seen a major breakthrough coming for Willett. His third-place finish at last year's WGC-Match Play may have been surprising, but he backed it up with a T-6 finish at the Open Championship after holding the 36-hole lead. Then just a few weeks ago, when everyone took Bubba Watson's runner-up finish at Doral as a sign he would again contend at the Masters, it was Willett who shared third place.

It's been clear for a while now that Willett can hold his own against a world-class field. Now he has the green jacket to prove it.

"It still doesn't sink in quite what you've achieved," Willett said. "I've won a couple golf tournaments around the world, but this is just a different league."

9. Caddie bib numbers at the Masters are assigned based on when a player checks in on-site for the tournament. With his wife having just given birth to the couple's first child the week before, Willett's caddie wore No. 89 as he was the final player to register for the tournament. Coincidentally, that's the same number Jack Nicklaus' caddie, his son Jackie, wore in 1986.

Next year, the script will be flipped. Willett's caddie will wear the No. 1 bib - annually reserved for the defending champion.

10. Willett topped the standings, but it was a bona fide English invasion Sunday at Augusta. Five Englishmen finished T-10 or better, including Lee Westwood, who tied for second, and Paul Casey and Matthew Fitzpatrick, both of whom closed with 67. Throw in stalwart Justin Rose, T-10, and it was a banner week for the Queen's crew.

While Casey won't be at Hazeltine, the other performances served as a stark reminder that Darren Clarke's team will pack a hefty punch this fall at the Ryder Cup – which, for those counting, starts in 171 days.



11. It seems like eons ago, but it was only Saturday afternoon that Rory McIlroy strode to the first tee in the final pairing and within one shot of Spieth. His subsequent demise in the third round was rather surprising, and all the more frustrating given Spieth's various struggles over the weekend.

McIlroy finished T-10 for his third straight top-10 finish at the Masters, showing that he has the chops to handle Augusta National. But he's also now 0-for-2 in his quest to round out the career Grand Slam, a hurdle that grows ever higher with each passing year.

McIlroy will have to wait another 51 weeks to get his crack at a green jacket, and he'll have to field plenty of Grand Slam questions in the interim. But the Ulsterman had checked off so many boxes as he stood on that tee Saturday – recent form, health, simply avoiding the wrong side of the early-round draw – that it made his birdie-free effort in the spotlight seem all the more disappointing.

"I think that’s more me mentally and I’m trying to deal with the pressure of it and the thrill of the achievement if it were to happen," he said. "I think that’s the thing that’s really holding me back."

It's a candid assessment from McIlroy, but it still makes you wonder how he'll handle the situation the next time he finds himself in the Masters mix. At age 26, it still seems likely that he'll snag a green jacket at some point.

But the same was said about Norman, Tom Weiskopf and Ernie Els – all of whom never got their coveted piece of outerwear.

11. For a brief moment Sunday, it seemed the golf gods were going to repay Dustin Johnson with some Chambers Bay karma, as he sat in a great position to take advantage of Spieth's unexpected collapse.

Indeed, this seemed like the exact kind of scenario where Johnson – or Westwood, for that matter – might finally snag a major trophy: freed from the pressures and expectations of being near the lead for much of the final round, an opportunity basically fell into his lap with only a few holes remaining.

But just like at Chambers, Johnson's tee-to-green prowess was neutralized by his struggles on the greens. While he afforded himself three eagle attempts from inside 20 feet during the final round, he didn't convert any of them, including leaving the first two just short. He had a costly four-putt on No. 6, and by the time he three-putted No. 17 for double bogey, his window of opportunity had come and gone.

"I'm doing all the right things," he said. "I hit it in all the right spots, hit some great shots. I'll get 'em next time."

Johnson will have more chances, but if he's ever going to win a major – and frankly, it's a big if – he'll need to find a way to do it on the greens.

 

 


We have to find a way to make this happen. Right?

This week's award winners ... 

Your brother won the Masters, but you won Twitter: Thanks to gems like this one, the Internet quickly became enamored with the play-by-play prowess of Willett's brother, P.J., during the final round:


The streak is finally over: Given their recent success in the other majors, not to mention the Ryder Cup, it was always puzzling that a European hadn't won the Masters since the turn of the century. Consider that streak vanquished, as Euros will no longer have to hear about Jose Maria Olazabal's 1999 victory as the most recent continental conquest.

He called bank: The 16th green was the place to be Sunday, as three players made an ace on the hole known as "Redbud." But none was more improbable than Louis Oosthuizen, whose ball ricocheted off J.B. Holmes' before dropping for a hole-in-one. And to think, that's not even Oosthuizen's most impressive hole-out at Augusta National.



Courage of a champion: If Spieth is to be (rightfully) extolled for stepping up after disappointment, Els might deserve a medal. The four-time major champ suffered through a battle of the yips on the biggest stage the game has to offer, six-putting his opening hole of the tournament. It's an issue he has faced before in recent months, but for Els it struck at the worst possible time.

Nevertheless, he not only answered questions after an opening-round 80, he took time to sign a few autographs after an emergency session on the putting green.

Better luck next year: Two big whiffs from a pair of early-tournament favorites, as Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson both missed the cut. Fowler continued his propensity for big numbers on a big stage, as his opening 80 was his eighth score of 78 or higher in a major.

Mickelson, meanwhile, continues to mystify. He came into last year's Masters with no form to speak of and left a runner-up. This year, all signs point to a big week and he flames out with a second-round 79, his highest score ever at Augusta.

Seriously, better luck next year: Invitations to the 2017 Masters were doled out to everyone who cracked the top 12 in this year's standings. It's a group that includes the likes of Westwood, Fitzpatrick, Soren Kjeldsen and Daniel Berger, all of whom can book their Augusta travel without worrying about winning a tournament or facing an OWGR sweat.

Fond farewell: It was the last trip around Augusta National for two-time champ Tom Watson, as well as Ian Woosnam, a winner in 1991 who bowed out after missing the cut for the eighth straight year. It was also likely the final Masters start for 2011 Open champ Darren Clarke, while Keegan Bradley has now exhausted his five-year Masters exemption for winning the 2011 PGA Championship.