Masters implosion adds an asterisk to Jordan Spieth aura

It was the climax no-one saw coming, the seemingly unflappable defending champion Jordan Spieth first stumbled then self-combusted under the mental strain of expectation.

Masters implosion adds an asterisk to Jordan Spieth aura

We always want to highlight those athletes who perform on or near superhuman levels and for 63 holes, that man was Jordan Spieth.

He was the most dominant player at Augusta and never was that more clearly pronounced than when he rolled in his fourth consecutive birdie putt on the ninth to establish a seemingly insurmountable five-stroke lead on the rest of the field.

At that point it looked like Spieth could cruise home, basking in the glory of his victory march around Amen Corner before presenting himself, (as the defending champion), with his second Green Jacket.

Alas, the golfing gods had other ideas.

Ask him today and Spieth will tell you that he didn’t take his foot off the gas (players will do that to protect their self-confidence) but something small did change in his mindset during that journey from the 9th green to the 10th tee box that “opened a slammed shut door” and facilitated one of the greatest collapses in major history — a seemingly insurmountable five-shot lead turn to the dust of a three-shot deficit in just 40 minutes.

It’s easy to say that from the comfort of my own couch at home but my own experience of meltdowns in several Irish Opens in particular suggest that one poor decision is most usually compounded by another poor one.

In Spieth’s case, the domino effect meant that in the space of two short holes his lead on the 12th tee-box had been cut to just one shot from the impressive eventual winner Danny Willett.

That said, at that time it was still advantage Spieth as Willett had already completed the easy par fives at No’s 13 and 15 and had few realistic birdie opportunities left.

However it was manifestly obvious that Spieth’s emotions had already got the better of him as he was no longer trusting his game, making one mental error after another which culminated in blowing himself out of the tournament despite a late rally.

In truth, Spieth fell on his own sword and occasions like this are where legends are made for all the wrong reasons.

It will have been a crushing blow to a proud man and a great champion.

At 22, Jordan Spieth has many more great years ahead of him but this one will hurt as he knows that there is now a question mark behind his name.

Such is the cruelty of sport that it will get bigger the further he goes without additional major championship success.

Setbacks like this are great for analysis and column inches but in reality these players are competing at such an elevated level that the margins between being clutch, as Spieth was on the front nine holes, and ordinary, are miniscule.

So why wasn’t Spieth able to maintain those same levels of performance on the back nine?

Indeed, given that it’s his first significant meltdown the question now is what scar damage will remain?

In his prime with victory on the line, Tiger Woods would have closed out that tournament effortlessly.

Why? Because in the heat of battle he was able to separate out his emotion, staying exclusively focused on the process of getting the job done and by eliminating the emotion from the equation a rational Tiger was more often able to make the right decisions when it mattered most.

After this unwanted failure it is crucial now that Spieth licks his wounds, dusts himself off and grows from the experience, thereby making himself stronger and more determined the next time round.

Much like Rory McIlroy in 2011, nothing in his fearless make-up makes me believe that he cannot do this. He will respond positively to adversity and I fully expect him to be the man to beat in the US Open in June.

But only history can offer that final appraisal.

Here’s a little extra sport. Watch the latest BallTalk for the best sports chat and analysis: 
Premier League Manager of the season 
Premier League Player of the season 
Premier League Flops of the Season 

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox