Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Masters: Day Four Wrap-Up

First, let's give a lot of credit to that guy, what's his name -- oh, yeah, Danny Willett.  The Masters is often won by whoever plays the best on the back nine on Sunday.  Willett shot a blistering 33 on the back nine -- Jordan Spieth shot a 41.  Furthermore, Willett knew -- or should have known -- that he was in the lead after the 15th hole.  So he had to negotiate the last three holes knowing that the Green Jacket was at stake.  Many people have failed to make it through that stretch with the title on the line -- just ask Kenny Perry and Ed Sneed.  Willett played the last three holes in 1-under par -- 10 strokes -- and none of the 10 was a bad shot.  Willett is a fine player -- he's up to number 9 on the World Golf Rankings -- and he is a deserving winner.

But of course, the big story of this tournament was the collapse of Jordan Spieth.  Spieth played a very odd round.  He birdied all six of the par-5's, and he had six birdies in total for his round.  He went out in 32 -- four shots under par -- and finished the front nine with four birdies in a row.  On a weekend where no one could putt the greens at Augusta National, he had one of the best putting performances I have ever seen.  He had a five-shot lead with only nine holes to play.  And then he did this:

10th hole:  Bogey
11th hole:  Bogey
12th hole:  Quadruple Bogey

He fought on after that, birdieing the 13th and 15th holes to give himself a chance, but he effectively lost the tournament on those three holes.

Now we saw Rory McIlroy do something very similar in 2011.  Going into the last round of the 2011 Masters, McIlroy had a four-shot lead.  On Sunday, he went out in 37 (one over par) and was still in the lead.  Then he made a triple bogey on 10 and a four-putt double bogey on 12 to fall out of contention.  He never recovered, and shot a 43 on the back nine to finish with an 80.  It was a devastating collapse, and I remember wondering how it would affect his career.

Two months later, McIlroy won the U.S. Open by 8 shots.

So Spieth's loss doesn't have to do long-term harm to his game.  In fact, we can quickly think of other great golfers who suffered similar heartbreak:

In the 1939 U.S. Open, Sam Snead needed a par on the last hole to win, or a bogey to make a playoff.  He got a triple bogey and lost by two shots.

In the 1956 Masters, Ken Venturi had a four-shot lead with one round to go.  He shot an 80, and lost by one shot.

In the 1966 U.S. Open, Arnold Palmer had a 7-shot lead with nine holes to play, and ended up losing to Billy Casper in a playoff.

In the 1986 Masters, Seve Ballesteros led the tournament by one shot while standing in the fairway on 15.  He went into the water on his next shot, taking a bogey.  He then bogeyed 17 and lost by two shots.

In the 1996 Masters, Greg Norman had a 6-shot lead with one round to go.  He shot a 78 on the last day and lost the tournament to Nick Faldo.

In the 2006 U.S. Open, Phil Mickelson needed a par on the last hole to win, or a bogey to tie.  He shot a double bogey and lost the tournament.

Now these are all great, great golfers, and they all won major titles.  So what happened to Spieth hardly proves that his career is in trouble.  But I still think we can learn something from his experience.  Because here are two names you don't see on that list:  Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.  Nicklaus and Woods had many dramatic moments in their careers, but on the whole, they were solid, cautious men who didn't make very many mistakes, and only gambled when the odds required them to do so.

On the other hand, a review of the list above shows a collection of some of the most dazzling and charismatic golfers in history -- Palmer, Ballesteros, Norman, and Mickelson were all famous for their gambling and attacking style.  That type of golf is exciting and thrilling, but it does occasionally result in catastrophes.

Now it certainly appears to be the case that Spieth wants to think of himself as a cautious, rational golfer.  My one complaint about his game is his endless discussions with his caddie over each shot, which is exhausting for both fans and his fellow competitors.  (McIlroy, who hates to play slow, shot a 77 in the one round he played with Spieth).  Even after the quadruple bogey on 12, Spieth continued working through his usual methodical process.  But sometimes a cautious demeanor hides the heart of a gambler -- look at Robert E. Lee or Bear Bryant.

We will keep watching Spieth to see how he responds to this disaster.  But we will also watch to see what it reveals about his personality.

Oh, and hats off to J.B. Holmes, who finished in a tie for fourth.  He could win this tournament someday.

One final point should be made.  The Augusta National Golf Course is truly one of the great wonders of the sport.  I cannot think of any other course where the same field, on the same day, will have such a wide variety of outcomes.  And yet, at the end of the day, you almost always feel that the result has been fair.  That's why it is the greatest golf course in the world.  Thank you, Bobby Jones.

1.  D. Willett (ENG):  -5 (70+74+72+67=283)

T2.  J. Spieth:  -2 (66+74+73+73=286)
T2.  L. Westwood (ENG):  -2 (71+75+71+69=286)

T4.  P. Casey (ENG):  -1 (69+77+74+67=287)
T4.  J.B. Holmes:  -1 (72+73+74+68=287)
T4.  D. Johnson:  -1 (73+71+72+71=287)

T7.  M. Fitzpatrick (ENG):  Even (71+76+74+67=288)
T7.  S. Kjeldsen (DEN):  Even (69+74+74+71=288)
T7.  H. Matsuyama (JPN):  Even (71+72+72+73=288)

T10.  D. Berger:  1 over (73+71+74+71=289)
T10.  J. Day (AUS):  1 over (72+73+71+73=289)
T10.  R. McIlroy (NIR):  1 over (70+71+77+71=289)
T10.  J. Rose (ENG):  1 over (69+77+73+70=289)
T10.  B. Snedeker:  1 over (71+72+74+72=289)

1 comment:

  1. Based on what I saw of his post-tournament comments, I think this is pretty much the analysis that Jordan Spieth also would've written. I will be rooting for him.