Jordan Spieth's epic collapse, Danny Willett's magical timing and an awkward moment in Butler Cabin: The 2016 Masters Rewatch
Kevin C. Cox
This is the latest installment of our Masters Rewatch series, in which we watch and recap the last 23 final rounds of the Masters while we’re working from home due to the coronavirus. What better way to get your Masters fix while in quarantine than by firing up YouTube and remembering all the stuff you might have missed from past Sundays at Augusta National?
Like Greg Norman’s infamous collapse in 1996, the 2016 Masters will always be remembered more for who didn’t win. Danny Willett walked away with the green jacket that Sunday, but it was the young man who placed it on the Englishman’s shoulders who stole the show—well, in a “Wait, they just killed that guy off the show?!” kind of way. Jordan Spieth, on his way to a second consecutive Masters title, blew a huge back-nine lead, stunning the sports world and leaving many people disappointed.
No offense to Willett, a lovely bloke in his own right, but a Spieth win would have been more popular in most corners of the golf community. Just not in my little corner having plunked $10 down on Danny at 66-to-1 odds. Cha-ching! While I was fortunate enough to win that wager—and to be on the grounds that day—it was fun rewatching this one, because, again, cha-ching! But seriously, here’s what else stood out.
1.) Jim Nantz opens CBS’ broadcast with a tremendous montage that ends with the following line: “Today Jordan Spieth could make the Masters his own springtime tradition!” Spieth held the 54-hole lead, but more impressively, he had now held the lead after seven consecutive rounds at Augusta National dating back to his wire-to-wire win the previous year. Remarkable. There was no way he was going to lose this … (Gulp) … right … ?
Kevin C. Cox
Nope. But we’ll get to that later.
2.) Nantz goes through the final few pairings who have yet to tee off and it includes 58-year-old(!) Bernhard Langer playing in the penultimate group. Incredible. But Nantz makes a rare error by saying Smylie Kaufman is playing alongside Spieth in the final pairing. Can you imagine? Wait … Um … Never mind … Apparently, this is correct. Smylie Kaufman trailed by only one shot entering Sunday and played in the final group at the Masters. Truly amazing—especially because exactly one year later I interviewed Smylie at a rented-out Midas a short walk down Washington Road from the course. Instead of being in Augusta to play in the tournament, he was promoting Natty Light. Life comes at you fast, kids.
3.) CBS shows Thursday’s ceremonial opening tee shots by Gary Player, who absolutely hammered one and let everyone know about it, and Jack Nicklaus. Also on the tee was Arnold Palmer, who sadly, could only sit in a chair and watch. Palmer passed away five months later. RIP The King.
4.) Back to the tournament, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson, both only three back at even par, begin their rounds. What a pairing! Day was ranked No. 1 in the world and the winner of the previous major, the PGA at Whistling Straits. And DJ was still searching for a first major after well-documented disappointments at Whistling Straits and Chambers Bay, among other places. The red-hot Day was also on a two-tournament winning streak, but it wouldn’t be his day as he shot 73 to finish T-10. He would win the Players Championship the following month to cap a remarkable run of seven PGA Tour wins in 17 starts.
5.) Rory McIlroy opts for the Big Dog off the tee on the short par-4 third and … drives the green! To about 15 feet! “That might be the best drive we’ve ever seen at No. 3,” Nantz says. Of course, in true Rory fashion, he burns the edge on his eagle attempt and never really gets anything going, finishing T-10 in his second attempt at completing the career Grand Slam.
6.) Nantz mentions that Spieth was feeling so uncomfortable with his swing that he had coach Cameron McCormack, who had been at Augusta National earlier in the week, fly back in for some last-minute help. That bodes well for his chances, huh?!
7.) Spieth looks solid on the first hole, though, finding the fairway and the middle of the green to make par. Meanwhile, Kaufman blocks his opening drive right, but hits a spectacular approach to within four feet. A miss from there would set the tone, though. Kaufman would briefly tie for the lead on the following hole, but then shoot eight over the rest of the way to finish T-29.
8.) Up ahead, the penultimate (love that word) pairing was really struggling. Both Langer and Matsuyama made early double bogeys and dropped three shots over the first six holes. The first Japanese Masters champ or the first senior-citizen Masters champ would have to wait.
9.) An hour and 20 minutes into the broadcast and we finally see Danny Willett for the first time. He strokes a nice lag putt on the treacherous fifth hole to set up an easy par. And he’s wearing a crisp all-white outfit. Well, not including his light green polo that’s covered up by a sweater because it’s so chilly. This would be talked about later so stay tuned! Wait, why haven’t they showed Tiger Woods yet?! Oh. Right. He didn’t play that year. Or the following year. But he returned in 2018 and then again in 2019. Not sure if you remember what happened then. HINT: It was a good one!
10.) In recent years we’ve gotten used to seeing holes-in-one on No. 16 on Sunday, but there were THREE on this day. Shane Lowry pulled off the feat first, followed by Davis Love III and, finally, Louis Oosthuizen, who made the most ridiculous ace of all, ricocheting one off J.B. Holmes’ ball and into the cup. OK, we’re getting a bit bogged down here, especially since this Masters, as much as any, doesn’t begin until the back nine …
11.) But first, Spieth rolls in a 20-footer for birdie on No. 9 for a fourth consecutive birdie. Nick Faldo calls it “incredible” and “demoralizing to the rest of the field.” And it is. This guy simply lives at the top of the leader board at Augusta National. And now he has his biggest lead as he makes the turn.
There’s NO way this guy can lose … right … ?
12.) Of course, you know he can, and it starts with a pushed tee shot on No. 10. He misses the green with a long approach, hits a poor bunker shot and misses his par attempt from 15 feet. Bogey. Meanwhile, up ahead Willett gets fortunate that his tee shot on 12 stays on the bank and avoids the front bunker or even worse, Rae’s Creek. From there he hits a simple chip to four feet and makes par.
13.) Another bad tee shot to the right on No. 11 puts Spieth in trouble, but a splendid third shot from 120 yards that almost spins into the hole seems to get him out of it. A miss from eight feet, coupled with a birdie from Willett on No. 14 and suddenly, the lead is only one. Still, Spieth is showered with applause as he makes the short walk to the 12th tee. The patrons were about to get shockingly quiet, though.
14.) I’ll never forget the audible gasp in the old Masters media center when Spieth’s golf ball landed on the bank and splashed. It might be the only time all the writers there stopped eating—to be fair, it’s quite a spread—to pay attention to the actual tournament. Suddenly, Spieth wasn’t planning next year’s Champions Dinner, but was being eaten and spit up by the golf course he had owned to this point instead. After showing two replays and a replay of Spieth finding the water there two years before, CBS cuts away for three minutes, which seems like an eternity. What is going on?!
15.) When they return to Spieth, he’s conversing with caddie Michael Geller after taking a drop in an unusual spot. But he must know what he’s doing because this is Jordan Spieth. He’s going to save bogey, keep a share of the lead and still win this thing. Or not. There was a louder gasp as Spieth chunked his third shot into a part of Rae’s Creek that had never been threatened by a tour pro. The CBS broadcast crew was just as shocked. “Oh my goodness,” Faldo says. “This unbelievable. The iron man … is now having an absolute meltdown.”
Kevin C. Cox
An absolute meltdown, indeed. After knocking his fifth shot over the green, Spieth gets up and down from the back bunker for a quadruple-bogey 7. After going six over for a three-hole stretch, he now trails Willett by three. It’s a remarkable eight-shot swing in about 40 minutes.
16.) But don’t start fitting Danny for the green jacket just yet! Lee Westwood, playing alongside Willett, chips in from behind the 15th green for eagle. He’s now just one shot behind! Of course, he’s Lee Westwood, so he three-putt bogeys the next hole and winds up finishing T-2. Speaking of that next hole …
17.) Willett hits a beautiful shot to eight feet and makes the putt to seize control of the tournament. Yes! This really might happen! I thought that day as I start counting my money. No! This really might happen! all non-British golf writers thought as they began counting how many words they were going to have to rewrite from their game stories.
18.) This was far from over, though, with Johnson just two back and Spieth, still with six holes to play, only three back. Just kidding, it was over. After a nice par save on 17 and a double bogey by DJ on the same hole, Danny and I are feeling pretty good about our chances of collecting a big prize.
19.) As Willett plays 18, CBS shows clips of Faldo beating Greg Norman in 1996 and Nantz compares what’s happening today. It’s a good comparison, except 2016 is even more stunning. Norman never won a green jacket while Spieth was nine holes away with a five-shot lead! Even crazier is how Nantz informs viewers that Willett almost didn’t even play in the tournament because he and his wife were expecting their first kid that very day. But baby Zachariah came a few days earlier than expected, and as a result, I made a few extra bucks as daddy won a green jacket. Talk about a happy ending to an unlikely story.
20.) While Willett’s timing was fortunate, this isn’t the fluke people have painted it to be. Willett arrived at Augusta National as the 12th-ranked golfer in the world. He’s not exactly Ben Curtis. And the 28-year-old knows enough about winning photos to take off his sweater for the first time all day before tapping in for par. Brilliant. Both the bogey-free 67 and having the wherewithal to look your best for the cameras in the biggest moment of your life.
21.) Apparently, Willett isn’t great at keeping his phone charged. When Spieth bogeys 17 to make the Brit’s win official, Willett is seen leaning over a charging station while talking to his wife. I’m pretty sure this is a first in Masters history.
22.) Kudos to Spieth for doing an interview with Bill Macatee, who asks him about “the wheels falling off” (ouch) on the back nine. “Yeah, it’s just … it’s tough,” Spieth says. “It’s really tough.” And it’s about to get tougher …
22.) The Butler Cabin ceremony was just as brutal as I remembered as one of sport’s coolest traditions turned into one of the cruelest as Spieth, who seemed a lock to keep the green jacket a couple hours before, is reduced to slipping it on Willett. He actually almost falls over when he stands up, almost like a prizefighter who got battered in the ring. Again, to Spieth’s credit, he handles it as well as could be expected. That said, the scene is still causing memes four years later.
Awkward! Poor Jordan.
23.) An appearance by low amateur Bryson DeChambeau, though, is a nice highlight. A pre-bulked-up Bryson, that is. “Next week’s Hilton Head,” he says after congratulating Willett. “I turn professional then and look forward to hopefully making a check next week.” He wound up finishing T-4 and earning $259,600. Not too shabby.
24.) But the day and week belonged to Willett, who vaulted to No. 9 in the Official World Golf Ranking. A new star was born! Only, he’d actually go in a horrific two-year slump after this. But again, let’s stay positive. The guy just won the green jacket!
25.) We are reminded for about the 17th time that Willett joins Faldo as the only Englishmen to win the Masters. And like Sir Nick, Willett wears the green jacket well. Heck, green on green has never looked so good! Of course, having won a little green myself, I’m a bit biased. Hang on. It’s too late for the IRS to come after me, right?
2016 Masters—Final Round Broadcast