He could have been sailing along on the second act to one of the greatest years in golf history. Instead, the young Texan left Augusta shaking his head, and trying to figure out how to shake off one of the most epic collapses in the history of the game.
It won’t be easy. Not only will Spieth have to erase the memory of his splashdown on No. 12 — a quadruple-bogey 7 that included two water balls and turned a one-time five-shot lead into a three-shot deficit to the eventual champion, Danny Willett.
Spieth will also have to clear all the bad thoughts out of his head. Over the weekend, he played 31 holes of good-to-great golf and put himself in position for a second green jacket at the tender age of 22.
Those other five holes were 17 and 18 on Saturday, then 10, 11 and 12 on Sunday. He went a cumulative 9 over on those and had bad swing thoughts that he simply couldn’t overcome.
“The wheels kind of came off the last ... holes on Saturday,” said Spieth, who brought his coach, Cameron McCormick, back into Augusta for a quick tune-up before tee time in the final round.
It helped. For a while.
My confidence going into the first hole was fantastic,” said Spieth, who made four straight birdies to hit the turn at 7 under, in the lead by five strokes. “But listen, I had my ‘B-minus’ game tee to green. Ultimately, you have to have your ‘A’ game every single part, and I just didn’t have those iron swings, as it showed on the back nine.”
All of which set up an awkward award presentation in Butler Cabin, which was then replicated on the practice green in front of the clubhouse.
First, Spieth had to present the green jacket to Willett in front of the television cameras.
Then, he had to do it again for the patrons.
Still looking a bit shocked, Spieth managed to muddle through.
“I can’t imagine that was fun for anyone to experience,” he said, “other than maybe Danny’s team and those who are fans of him.”
He fully expected to be taking home his own green jacket for another year, as is the custom for the Masters champion.
“I can’t think of anybody else who may have had a tougher ceremony to experience,” said Spieth, who now has to leave his jacket at the club.
Nothing describes Spieth’s slow- motion wreck Sunday at the Masters better than the way a character in “The Sun Also Rises” answers the question “How did you go bankrupt?”
“Two ways,” he replies. “Gradually, then suddenly.”
Just past 5 p.m. on a crisp Sunday afternoon, Spieth had just made the last of four straight birdies at No. 9 to reach 7 under. He was holding a five-shot lead, apparently cruising toward a second straight Masters in only his third start.
Then came the pushed drive to the right at No. 10, followed by an approach shot into a greenside bunker and a bogey.
Next, Spieth pushed it even farther right off the 11th tee, punched it back into the fairway and then onto the green; two putts later, he made another bogey, shrinking his lead over Willett to two shots.
His troubles were just beginning.
“I’m not really sure what happened on the next shot,” he said. “I just hit it fat.”
Small wonder he blocked out the memory. In fact, Spieth stuck the wedge deep enough in the ground to dislodge a piece of turf the size of toupee, and sent the ball ballooning a measly 48.
As he walked off the 18th and toward the scoring office, the gallery ropes pulled taut to hold back the crowd, that small corner of Augusta National became an echo chamber. Applause from fans lining both sides built to a roar.
For the rest of the walk to the clubhouse, Spieth kept his nose stuck in the notebook holding his scorecard.
It wasn’t that the math was so difficult; more likely, Spieth was still having some difficulty believing what he saw. A few moments later, after signing his scorecard, he turned up in Butler Cabin to put the green jacket on Willett and in one last indignity, nearly tripped getting out of his chair.
He expects to have that falling feeling for some time.
“Big picture,” Spieth said finally, “this one will hurt. It will take a while.”