It wasn’t as easy as it looked. It couldn’t be as easy as it looked. This is how easy the 2015 Masters looked for the leader Sunday as he moved from shot to shot and hole to hole.
You could almost hear him say, “Hi. My name is Jordan Spieth. I’m 21 years old, and I’m in first place. There are some really good players trying to catch me. But I don’t plan to let them. By the way, I’m from Dallas. Anybody know who’s pitching for the Rangers today or when the Cowboys open training camp? And isn’t this weather great. Sure hope everybody is having a good time.”
Spieth was as unflappable in the fourth round Sunday as he was in the first three. He began the afternoon with a four-stroke lead on Justin Rose and a five-stroke lead on Phil Mickelson.
Rose cut the lead to three strokes with a birdie on No. 2. He would never get closer. Only once did Mickelson move within four strokes, and that was on No. 18 after a Spieth bogey.
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So: Spieth shot 270 to beat Mickelson and Rose by four strokes. Never did Spieth flinch, never did he panic and on a day almost devoid of humidity, he might not have sweat. Never did he think he was not worthy. In the three tournaments before the Masters, Spieth finished first, second and, after a playoff, tied for second. He knows he’s worthy.
Spieth also is worthy of the attention he has generated. Rose hit a fantastic shot Sunday, and Spieth smiled and gave him a thumbs up. He smiled his way through the tournament, respectful of older golfers, which is to say almost every other golfer, and of fans and tradition.
“It’s a game of integrity,” says Spieth. “There’s no referees out there. We all respect each other. I don’t think in any other sport do you see two opposing teams that are complimenting after each shot or touchdown or whatever it is. The top players in the world, and really everybody that I’ve played with on the PGA Tour, are Class A guys. I have a great time. It makes the transition to this step out into the real world a lot easier.”
It’s uncommon for an athlete to make such an impact at such a young age. But it’s not unique. LeBron James turned 21 in December of the the 2005-06 season. He averaged 31.4 points, 7 rebounds and 6.6 assists, led Cleveland to the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and finished second to Steve Nash in the vote for MVP.
Talent doesn’t wait.
“The ultimate goal that I’ve mentioned I think each week is to try to become the No. 1 player in the world,” says Spieth. “I don’t think I am with this. I think that I’m still behind, and so there’s still – I’m still chasing that goal.”
Spieth was ranked No. 4 going into the Masters. Rory McIlroy, 25, is No. 1.
Spieth calls McIlroy an “unbelievably nice guy” and acknowledges he’ll never drive the ball as far as McIlroy does and says he’ll have to compensate in other ways.
What are those ways?
Spieth plays winning golf. He doesn’t labor, and he doesn’t question his ability or his swing. When he addresses the ball the act is as natural as reaching out and shaking somebody’s hand.
Spieth did a lot of hand shaking after his victory. But first there were hugs. He hugged his father, Shawn, and his mother, Chris. He hugged his girlfriend, Annie Verret. He hugged his caddie, Michael Greller.
Spieth put his left arm around his father, and his mother caught up and she wrapped her left arm around him. They walked off into the crowd to seek Spieth’s friends. Many had come from Dallas and Austin, Texas, to watch him, and he needed to acknowledge them.
The celebration was spontaneous and warm. He reached into the crowd until he found every hand. Touch ’em all.
Sorensen: 704-358-5119; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @tomsorensen