The 21-year-old never wavered
(AUGUSTA, Ga.) — What a difference from one year to the next for Jordan Spieth.
In 2014, the young Texan squandered a lead at the Masters on the final day with back-to-back bogeys just before the turn, and could only watch as Bubba Watson pulled away to claim his second green jacket.
On Sunday, Spieth firmly seized control of a tournament that has been his from the start — at the very same spot on the course, no less — strolling confidently to the 10th hole with a commanding five-shot advantage.
Better start sizing him up for his first green jacket.
Showing no signs of cracking, the 21-year-old stretched a four-shot lead at the beginning of the day, pretty much wrapping things up with a birdie at the eighth and a par at the ninth, gaining two shots on his playing partner Justin Rose.
Rose was only three behind after Spieth bogeyed the seventh, missing a short but icy putt. Spieth quickly bounced back — as he had each time anyone put a semblance of heat on the kid — with a birdie at the par-5 eighth. Rose missed his birdie attempt from about 6 feet after a sloppy pitch from just off the green.
At No. 9, Rose put his approach 20 feet from the flag but three-putted from there. Spieth made a nice, comfortable par to keep his score at 17-under par — five shots ahead of both Rose and Phil Mickelson, who just up ahead had birdied the 10th.
The only drama, it seemed, was whether Spieth would break another Masters scoring record on a cloudy day at Augusta National. He already set new standards for 36 and 54 holes, and he pushed his score to 18-under par with a gutsy birdie at the 13th.
Rather than laying up, he went for the green for 208 yards away, the ball clearing the creek that has ruined so many contenders.
“Go hard! Go hard! Go hard!” Spieth screamed, letting out a sigh of relief when the ball stopped just 14 feet past the flag.
He missed the putt, which would have made him the first player in Masters history to reach 19-under par. But the tap-in birdie got him to 18 under and still five shots ahead of Rose with five holes remaining.
Tiger Woods set the Masters record with an 18-under 270 in 1997, winning the first of his four green jackets in a runaway.
Spieth, just a few months older than Woods that day, was dominating in similar fashion.
He already had 27 birdies for the week to eclipse another record, the 25 birdies that Phil Mickelson made 2001.
Spieth, who set the tone in the very first round with an 8-under 64, was poised to become the first wire-to-wire winner since Raymond Floyd in 1976 and only the fifth in Masters’ history.
Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion playing in the final group of a major for the first time, kept up his strong finish to the third round by making two straight birdies to start Sunday. At that point, he had birdied seven of his last eight holes.
Spieth never wavered, and Rose faded away. A bogey at the sixth broke a streak of 18 consecutive holes with nothing but pars and birdies for the Englishman. The stumble at No. 9 left Rose with a 36 on the front side, not the sort of charge he needed the way Spieth was playing.
Mickelson, seeking his fourth Masters title, never really got it going either. The closest he got to the lead was four shots.
Charley Hoffman, playing in the next-to-last group with Lefty, finally faded away after three strong rounds. The 38-year-old was doomed by a shaky putter, the kiss of death on Augusta’s devilish greens.
Woods played in the third group from the end with the world’s top-ranked player, Rory McIlroy. It was a glamorous pairing but didn’t produce too many cheers, both players facing 10-shot deficits coming into the day and not doing anything to show they were capable of a historic comeback.
Woods, in particular, had all sorts of problems with his driver, failing to hit a fairway until the 13th. He drove into the adjacent ninth fairway with his first shot of the day, then missed that same fairway when actually playing No. 9. Winding up on the pine straw right of the fairway, he struck a hidden root on his swing, yelling out in pain and letting the club fly from his grasp.