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Ashway: Willett played well, but Spieth lost Masters
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Forsyth County News

Greg Norman’s off the hook.

For 20 years, Norman’s been the poster boy for blown Masters.

No more.

In three holes on Sunday afternoon, Jordan Spieth did what it took Norman a dozen holes to do back in 1996. 

But for both, the death knell tolled at the treacherous 12th hole.  One hundred fifty yards, the azalea-backed green nestled between a pair of bunkers, with initial protection afforded by rippling Rae’s Creek.  The most scenic par-three in golf.

Beauty is a beast.

How did Spieth, the leader of the tournament at the end of each round for the past two years, manage a quadruple bogey seven?

Easy.  He got up and down from the back bunker.

After making two deposits into Rae’s Creek.

Just a half hour earlier, Spieth had sauntered off the ninth green after making his fourth consecutive birdie, touring the front side in a mere 32 strokes, and slipping five shots clear of the field.

Surely the last nine holes would amount to a love fest, a stroll to a second coronation as Masters champion, and acknowledgement as golf’s greatest thing since the demise of golf’s last greatest thing.

Spieth’s lead was insurmountable.  Just like Virginia, methodical, defensive-minded Virginia, holding a 15-point lead over Syracuse with 10 minutes left to play in their regional final.

Whoops.

A couple of loose shots cost Spieth bogeys at 10 and 11.  At the same time, the little-known Yorkshireman, Danny Willett, was making birdies at 13 and 14.

And then, suddenly, it was all over.

“Twelve is a 150-yard shot, and I feel I can bleed it next to the hole,” Spieth observed at his post-tournament press conference.  “It’s a stock 9-iron for me.  Stay committed behind the bunker.  I was still two-under for the tournament with a couple par-fives left.  My goal for the day was four-under, so we were right on pace.

“I remember getting over the ball thinking I’m going to go ahead and hit a little cut to the hole, and that’s what I did in 2014, and it cost me the tournament then, too.

“That was the right club, just the wrong shot.  I was more comfortable hitting a draw with my iron.  I knew every time I played a fade this week, that shot kind of came out.

“The swing just wasn’t quite there to produce the right ball flight.  So, ultimately, I should have just played a draw on that hole.”

That’s a reassuring revelation to the vast majority of the golfing public.  We’ve all experienced the disastrous results greeting players who ponder the wrong thoughts during their swing routine.

We’ve also experienced making the same mistake twice, and visiting the same hazards time and again.

Which makes us no different from one of the best players in the world.  Clearly, it happens to the best of us.

After taking his obligatory drop, Spieth floated another ball into Rae’s Creek.  His analysis:  “I’m not really sure what happened on the next shot.  I just hit it fat.”

Who hasn’t been there, done that, and heard some wiseacre in the foursome intone, “Oops, you hit the big ball first!”

Yes, Spieth blew the Masters.  Had he just toured the back nine in regulation, he’d have won by two shots.

His spectacular self-immolation diverted most of the attention away from how well Willett played.  His 67 tied for low round of the day.  Five birdies and not a single bogey.

News of Spieth’s demise reached Willett on the 15th green, and he promptly stuck an 8-iron and birdied 16.  His playing partner, countryman Lee Westwood, presented with the same opportunity, made bogey.

Willett also hit solid drives on 17 and 18, showing no sign of nerves, and parred out for his three stroke win.

“You all empathize,” Willett said of Spieth at his post-tournament presser.  “Today, what happened was just a bad beat.  Them things happen in golf.

“I just feel I was fortunate that I was in the position that I was to pounce on the opportunity to accomplish it.  If I had been five-over par, then it wouldn’t have mattered what Jordan had done.

“Fortunately, I was in a position where we were in second place, playing quite nicely, and as a result of him doing what he did, we were able to stay at the lead.”

Sadly, though, we won’t remember Willett’s flawless play so much as we’ll remember Spieth’s implosion.

We remember Norman’s breakdown—he shot a 78.  But Nick Faldo cruised along, fashioning his own 67 that day, turning a six-shot deficit into a five-shot win.

In fact, Faldo’s first Masters win came about thanks to the largesse of Scott Hoch (rhymes with choke) who missed a two-foot putt that would have won the ’89 Masters.       

When Danny Willett flew back across the pond Monday sporting his green jacket, he was hailed as the Masters champion.

But the 2016 Masters will forever be remembered as the Masters Jordan Spieth lost.