AUGUSTA, Ga. — After an abbreviated night of sleep, Jordan Spieth said the start he got off to on Sunday in the final round of the 78th Masters was better than anything he could have dreamed about, had he been able.
It’s what happened after that fast start that, while not a nightmare, is certain to keep the 20-year-old awake at night. Because if not for a missed shot here or a pulled putt there, it might have been Spieth, and not Bubba Watson, winning, and making history as the tournament’s youngest champion.
For the briefest of moments — after maybe the best shot of his young life — Spieth was leading in the final round by three strokes. Barely an hour later he was trailing by two, and wound up losing by three. But in his Masters debut, Spieth tied for second with another first-timer, Jonas Blixt.
“I’m very, very pleased, no doubt. Although I feel it’s like it’s very early in my career, and I’ll have more chances, it’s a stinger,” Spieth said. “I had it in my hands and I could have gone forward with it [but] just didn’t quite make the putts, and that’s what it came down to.”
Actually, it came down to a two-hole, four-shot swing midway through the final round. Spieth began the day tied with Watson at the top but pulled ahead with four birdies over his first seven holes: He birdied No. 2 to take the lead by himself, then incredibly holed a bunker shot at the par-3 fourth, which put him three ahead of Watson, who would answer with his own birdie there moments later. Birdies at Nos. 6 (a par 3, and also matched by Watson) and 7 pushed Spieth to 8 under as he played the par-5 eighth hole.
That’s when the momentum changed. Watson birdied and Spieth bogeyed, leaving them tied at 7 under. Then Spieth left his approach shot to the ninth hole short and couldn’t save par. With Watson rolling in a 12-foot slider at No. 9, the lefthander now was the one with the two-shot advantage.
“[Nos.] 8 and 9 were the turning points of the day,” Spieth said. “When I got to 10, I still believed that I could win the tournament, no doubt about it. And I had a putt on 11 to get back to tied.”
He missed that putt and then made the kind of mistake a Masters rookie might make when the heat, even on a warm April day, gets cranked up. He took aim at the flag at the dangerous 12th hole and didn’t hit it quite hard enough. His ball landed near the green, but not high enough, catching the bank and slowly coming back, dropping into Rae’s Creek.
It led to a bogey, and Spieth made all pars from there, unable to catch Watson. In the process, with things not going the way he wanted, Spieth began to display the kind of body language he described as “embarrassing” a few months ago: knocking clubs to the ground, vocally admonishing himself after poor shots, and showing, maybe not in the best way, just how badly he wanted to win.
“That’s just who he is,” said Michael Greller, Spieth’s caddie. “At one point he told me, once it was kind of obvious it was over, ‘I worked my whole life for this moment.’ It was just kind of some frustration coming out, and I just reminded him, ‘You’re going to have a lot of those moments.’ It’s tough to swallow when you’re right there and just come up a little short.”
A little short, yes, but definitely not bad for one’s Masters debut.
“I feel like I’m ready to win,” Spieth said. “It’s just a matter of time and maybe a little bit of course knowledge.”Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.