Will this be the Masters most remembered as the one Danny Willett won or that Jordan Spieth lost?
Ultimately it won’t matter: Willett, taking advantage of Spieth’s stunning back-nine collapse, is the champion. Willett did it by shooting a 5-under 67 Sunday, overtaking Spieth, who had walked off the ninth green with a five-stroke lead.
Three holes later, the lead that Spieth, the 2015 champion, had so carefully pieced together over 63 holes, was gone.
While England’s Willett played the back nine in 3-under par, Spieth began the final stretch with what seemed to be a benign-enough bogey on the 10th hole.
But another bogey on No. 11 – trimming the lead to three shots – sent out danger signals for Spieth.
That led to the hole that truly did Spieth in, the par-3 12th, the centerpiece of Amen Corner. His tee shot bounced into Rae’s Creek in front of the green. Then, in an even more unlikely scenario, Spieth dropped his second attempt cleanly in the creek.
He would end up with a quadruple-bogey 7.
“Buddy,” Spieth said to his caddie Michael Greller, “it feels like we’re collapsing.”
Willett, who birdied the 13th and 16th, noticed.
“That put it back in anyone’s hands,” he said. “I knew I still had a job to do. There were still plenty of holes for him to catch up and for him to keep chasing.”
Spieth gamely tried to rally. He birdied No. 13 and No. 15. But that was all he had. He now has two second-place finishes and a championship in three Masters appearances.
Willett finished with a 5-under 283 for the tournament, three strokes better than fellow Englishman Lee Westwood and Spieth. Willett wouldn’t have played in the Masters had his wife Nicole not given birth early to their first child last week. Willett played for two seasons at Jacksonville State in Alabama, and is the first British golfer to win the Masters since Nick Faldo in 1996.
“I’m obviously happy for Danny,” Spieth said. “More important than golf, he's had a lot of really cool things happen in his life. Like he said, maybe fate had it this time for him. I certainly wanted to control fate, myself.”
Three who mattered
Danny Willett: Might be remembered as the guy who won only because Spieth collapsed, but he’ll take it.
Jordan Spieth: His back nine will be talked about, dissected for years to come.
Lee Westwood: His eagle on 15 briefly gave him hope, but couldn’t take advantage from there.
▪ Columbia native Dustin Johnson finished tied for fourth and was in contention until a double-bogey on the 17th. He trailed Willett by just one stroke after a birdie on No. 15. “It was great,” said Johnson. “Obviously, I didn’t know (Spieth) had trouble on 12, but yeah, I mean the atmosphere was great.”
▪ When the wind blew Billy Horschel’s ball off the green and into the water on Saturday – ruining a potential eagle chance for Horschel – he said the “golfing gods, they owe me one, hopefully.”
On Sunday, Horschel’s prayer was answered when he holed an approach shot for eagle on No. 8.
▪ The hole location on the par-3 16th was generous Sunday, yielding three holes-in-one. That’s the first time that’s ever happened.
Lowry’s was the first. It was the 16th of his career, but his first on U.S. soil.
Then came Charlotte native Davis Love III, who hit his while playing-partner Webb Simpson, a Charlotte resident, watched and high-fived him afterward.
The third ace will go down as one of golf’s more amazing shots. After J.B. Holmes hit his tee shot to within about 3 feet of the hole, Louis Oosthuizen followed with a similar-looking shot. So similar, in fact, that Oosthuizen’s ball hit Holmes’. The richochet sent Holmes’ ball rolling inches past the hole, but Oosthuizen’s took advantage of the redirection and rolled in. Oosthuizen also had a double-eagle on the second hole in the Masters in 2012.
▪ Bernhard Langer started the day in contention, just two strokes behind Spieth. A bogey-par-double-bogey start, however, cost Langer, 58, a two-time Masters champion. He finished with a 7-over 79 for the day, 8-over for the tournament and tied for 24th.
He said it
“It’s a fine line between disaster and success at this place and it happened to Jordan.” – Westwood.
“I was just hoping that it was my ball that was in and not J.B.’s, because then neither of us would have a hole-in-one.” – Oosthuizen on his hole in one on the 16th.
“The more times I can get in position to win this tournament, the more times I’ll learn and I’ll know what not to do.” – McIlroy.
“I stood up and smiled like I should.” – Spieth on putting the green jacket on Willett in the post-tournament ceremony.