Sublime Spieth makes another major statement

By Christopher Devine 9 April 2018 95
Sublime Spieth makes another major statement

In the wake of Patrick Reed's Masters victory, it feels almost unfair to focus on another player's efforts at Augusta National.

Golf's newest major champion held his nerve superbly on Sunday, completing a one-under 71 to finish one stroke ahead of Rickie Fowler and secure a much-coveted green jacket.

Yet although Reed prevailed and Fowler ended the tournament as his closest rival following an impressive 67, it was another American who produced the final day's most eye-catching performance, one that will linger long in the memory.

Jordan Spieth ultimately had to settle for third place, but it is no exaggeration to say the 2015 champion came within a whisker of pulling off the greatest comeback in golfing history.

No player has ever come from more than eight shots back in the final round to win the Masters. At one stage on Sunday, Spieth, who has contended at Augusta on every one of his five visits to the famous venue, appeared capable of triumphing from nine behind and registering a course record in the process.

When he poured in a 33-foot putt on the 16th for a two, Spieth was nine under for the day - having made more birdies than pars - and leading the tournament alongside Reed.

Many players have produced thrilling charges over the last 18 holes to earn Masters glory, but this was something else. 

Nick Price and Greg Norman are the only men to have shot 63 at Augusta, in 1986 and 1996 respectively. One more gain would have enabled Spieth to card a 62 and it almost arrived on the penultimate hole as a birdie putt from 18 feet grazed the edge of its target.

With Reed having improved to 15 under by this point, Spieth knew he almost certainly needed to pick up a shot at the last, but it was not to be.

Having stormed into contention so magnificently, conquering his much-talked-about demons at the 12th in the process with a stunning birdie, Spieth clipped a tree with his drive at the final hole and ultimately closed with a bogey. 

Nevertheless, he deserves the highest praise for making victory a realistic possibility after beginning the day seemingly out of the running.

Spieth's record in the Masters now comprises one win, two runner-up finishes, this third-place showing and a tie for 11th in 2017. Even then, he was only two shots off the lead with a round to play.

There is sure to be a year when he does not find himself in the mix at Augusta. Just do not bet on it coming any time soon.

So much attention this week understandably centred on Tiger Woods' long-awaited return to major action, but the 14-time major winner ultimately finished down the leaderboard in joint-32nd after struggling with his iron play throughout.

Woods was totally out of the running come Sunday and it appeared a duel between Reed and Rory McIlroy would provide the tournament's enduring impression, only for the latter to underwhelm with a closing 74.

Instead, as Reed grinded his way past the winning post, Spieth was the player delivering the biggest 'wow' factor, his astonishing surge prompting reactions of admiration and amazement on social media.

Still only 24, he has now been involved in at least one huge golfing storyline in each of the last four years - winning the Masters wire-to-wire in 2015, sensationally collapsing when a repeat looked certain the following year, claiming Open Championship glory last July in extraordinary fashion after another huge wobble and now threatening to prevail again at Augusta with a final round for the ages.

Regardless of his results in the coming months and years, Woods will remain golf's biggest draw as long as he continues his career - the man who moves the needle and transcends his sport like no other.

Spieth certainly carries an aura of his own, though, and this observer cannot wait to see what he does next.

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Christopher Devine

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