So don’t feel too bad for Jordan Spieth, the 20-year-old phenom who finished second to Bubba Watson Sunday in the 78th Masters Tournament. Yes, he had a chance to capture a green jacket in his first attempt and become the youngest winner in tournament history, and that is gone, swept away by Watson’s prodigious power and imagination as well as a few missteps of his own to fall three strokes shy of history.
But he’s barely 20 and already such an accomplished golfer. Which means Speith will have many more chances to feel bad. And, conversely, he’ll have plenty more chances to end up feeling awfully good.
“He’s an old 20-year-old. He’s full of class and a great, great player,” said 1992 Masters champion Fred Couples, who made Spieth a wild-card pick for last year’s U.S. Presidents Cup team.
“I think he doesn’t play like a 20 year old,” said Rory McIlroy, a two-time major champion before the age of 23. “He plays like a seasoned veteran. I wouldn’t say that any part of his game really stands out. But everything is just so solid. He plays to his strengths. He’s very composed for a 20-year-old. And that's why he’s had success so early on because he can control his emotions and he’s mature. Mentally he’s really good.”
Though Spieth tied with fellow Masters rookie Jonas Blixt for the silver medal, Blixt never led on the final day at sun-drenched Augusta National GC, which somewhat dulls his disappointment. Spieth, meanwhile, slept on a share of the 54-hole lead, and his early burst of brilliance propelled him to a two-stroke advantage through seven holes.
“Went over to the first tee and got off to kind of a dream start for Sunday at Augusta,” said Spieth, who made four early birdies, including a spectacular hole-out from a greenside bunker at the par-3 fourth. “It’s just so hard to play the first seven holes, I would say, well out here, and I was 3 under through the first seven. So if you told me that when I woke up this morning, I would have thought, you know, it would be difficult for me to not win this golf tournament.
“But 8 and 9 were the turning points of the day.”
Indeed they were, with two-shot swings at each after bogeys by Spieth and birdies by Watson, who went on to a closing 3-under 69 and 280 total to add a second green jacket to the one he claimed in 2012.
Spieth, who closed with an even-par 72 and 283 aggregate total, didn’t convert another birdie after his 10-foot slider found the cup at No. 7, a stroke that sent everyone scurrying to their dictionaries to double-check the spelling of the word “precocious.”
About that time, Canada’s Graham DeLaet, who missed the cut in his Masters debut, tweeted: “Scary to think this kid is only going to get better over the next 10-15 years. Unbelievably impressive stuff whether he wins or not.”
The former Texas All-American saw his chances dealt a further blow at the par-3 12th, the shortest hole on the course, when a slightly mishit 9-iron and a fateful gust of wind conspired to divert his ball into Rae’s Creek. Though he saved a bogey, he found himself fully at the mercy of Watson’s extraordinary ball striking - hardly a position to relish - and it was too much to overcome.
“I was nervous, but I wasn’t quite
not quite as patient today as I was the first three rounds and holding emotions, as well,” said Spieth, who bettered par in each of the first three rounds, something only five other Masters rookies - including Blixt - have ever done. “I was very close. It was still the best I’ve ever done on a Sunday, and I know that it can only improve from there, and that’s what's driving me to get back out.”
Had Spieth won, he’d have eclipsed Tiger Woods as the youngest Masters champion. Instead, the Dallas native, who turned pro in December 2012, will have to console himself with being the seventh man to debut with a runner-up finish and mine the positives he knows are in there somewhere.
“I'm very, very pleased, no doubt,” he said. “It stings right now, and the only thing I'm thinking about is when am I getting back next year? That's what's on my mind, because it's tough. It's tough being in this position. Obviously I've worked my whole life to lead Augusta on Sunday, and although I feel like it's very early in my career, and I'll have more chances, it's a stinger.
I had it in my hands.”
Yes, it hurts. But, then, 20-year-olds heal quickly. Like this: “Ultimately,” he said, “I'm very happy with the week, happy with the way my game is at going forward for this year, and I've accomplished one of my goals this year, which is to get in contention in a major and see how I can do. You know, hopefully going forward, I can do that again. There's still three more this year.”
Three more majors - plus a lifetime more of them, too - for Spieth, who already has proven that he is awfully good. Chances are he won’t always feel this bad.