Spieth dominates, Tiger stumbles and Crenshaw says goodbye: The 2015 Masters Rewatch
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?
Different Masters are special for different reasons. Some for the drama, some for a collapse, and some for sheer dominance.
The 2015 Masters falls firmly in the latter category. A year after finishing second, a 21-year-old Jordan Spieth ties Tiger Woods’ tournament scoring record of 18-under 270 and becomes the second youngest Masters champion in history. Behind Tiger, naturally. It was the start of one of the best major years we’ve ever seen from a golfer, Spieth following up the romp by winning the U.S. Open, missing a playoff at the British Open by a shot and taking solo second at the PGA.
Here’s what sticks out from Jordan’s coronation:
1. Jim Nantz begins proceedings by telling us that this could be “one of the biggest days of history ever at Augusta” and that his performance calls to mind “Jones, Nicklaus and Woods.” Spieth has already become the youngest first-round leader and set the 36- and 54-hole scoring records. Let’s frickin’ go.
2. There’s a nice little tribute to Ben Crenshaw, who was playing his 44th and final Masters. He shot 91-85 to finish at 32 over, in last place by more than 13, but his play really was an afterthought as he walked up 18. His longtime caddie Carl Jackson—who Crenshaw started using when players were required to use an Augusta caddie, then decided to keep using him when that rule was lifted and won the 1984 and ’95 Masters with Jackson on the bag—was supposed to caddie that week but couldn’t due to sore ribs. So Crenshaw had Jackson’s younger brother Bud loop for him. Carl was waving to Ben as he walked up 18. Crenshaw bursts into tears after holing his final putt on Friday. A nice scene.
3. Some serious star power in the final three groups. It’s not exactly the 2019 Masters, which featured an almost literal who’s-who of the top 10 players in the world, but it was pretty, pretty good. Third-to-last group: Tiger Woods, playing his first tournament since withdrawing from January’s Farmers Insurance Open—which came just after he shot 82(!) at the Waste Management Open—and world No. 1 Rory McIlroy. Penultimate group: Phil Mickelson and Charley Hoffman. Final group: Spieth and Justin Rose, wearing some nerdy glasses.
4. Rory was right in the middle of his transition from pudgy boy to ripped man, and the difference between his bicep circumference here vs. the 2014 PGA (which he won) is significant.
5. Tiger’s first shot of the day is a violent snap-hook with a 3-wood. That Woods entered the day in a tie for sixth is something of a miracle, given the state of his body and his golf swing. His previous four starts resulted in a withdrawal, a missed cut, a missed cut, and a withdrawal. It came, quite literally, out of nowhere. He missed his first eight fairways of the day, and there was nary a pattern: heely cuts, toe hooks, blocks…you name it, he had it. This wasn’t the nadir of the struggles, but it wasn’t pretty.
6. We’re shown a Spieth highlight package, and it’s really a shame there isn’t strokes gained data at the Masters, because Spieth’s putting numbers would have been a total joke. It’s not just that he made everything that week—it’s that every putt never looked destined for anywhere but the hole. The ball looks tired, the cup is its bed, and the ball just wants to fall into its bed. Crenshaw said of him that week: “You can’t teach the imagination of this kid.”
7. Part of what made Spieth so appealing, that week and since, is how open he is. The guy never stops talking—to himself, to his ball, to his caddie. It’s a fascinating look into the mind of a competitor. If Tiger kept everything in him, Spieth's emotions were in full display.
8. No amateurs made the cut by the way, and it’s a bit of a rag-tag group. There’s Corey Conners, who is a solid PGA Tour pro, but the others: Gunn Yang, Bradley Neil, Antonio Murdaca, Matias Dominguez, Byron Meth and Scott Harvey.
9. Broadcast shows an old local news package showing Spieth, aged 14, looking dead into the camera and saying, “My ultimate goal is to win the Masters.” It’s not quite Tiger hitting balls on a talk show at age 2, but it’s certainly goosebumps stuff.
10. On the second hole, Mickelson hits a big sweeping cut. Bones, his caddie, starts talking to it: “hit it! Hit it wind!” Mickelson calmly talks back: “It is. It’s hitting it.” Man, I miss their interplay. Also, shoutout to the on-course mics that year, which were hyper sensitive and gave us some awesome insight.
11. Charley Hoffman never ages. He always looks the exact same: Blond locks, sun-weathered face, oversized glasses, clothes in the tan-green hue. You could show me him in 2015 and tell me its 2005 or 2020 and I’d believe it.
12. Tiger bogeys 4 to zap any juice he may have had. We’re shown every shot of his after that, but there was never any momentum.
13. The pin on 8 is front left, which is odd…isn’t the pin always back-left on 8?
14. Injury scare for Tiger at 9, where he blocked his tee shot into the right pine straw then hit a root on his second shot. He shakes it off, but at that point in time, you were just hoping Tiger wouldn’t get injured. He hadn’t played four rounds in a tournament in nine months.
15. BACKSTOPPING ALERT! And before backstopping was cool! Spieth plays a tidy chip on 8, leaving about two feet for birdie…and then does not mark his ball before Rose plays his pitch. Rose’s ball ends up missing Spieth’s by about two inches. Can you imagine the outrage today? Backstopping among the two leaders in the final round of the Masters?!
16. With the tournament never in doubt, Nantz has plenty of time to sing Spieth’s praises. Talks about how much he loves his attitude, points to Spieth’s answer to a question about his humility: “My speaking about humility would be very difficult, because that wouldn’t be humility.” First off, nice possessive before a gerund, Jordan! Secondly, Nantz loves a good sap. He’s the perfect broadcaster for a tournament that elicits such romanticism like the Masters.
17. Spieth birdies 10 to set the all-time record for most birdies in a single Masters. It’s all over from that point on.
18. Phil holes his bunker shot at 15 for eagle and winds up finishing tied for second with Rose. Those guys shoot 14 under in a major and lose by four. Tough.
19. Spieth’s last birdie of the tournament comes at 15, where he stripes his tee shot to set up a fairway wood approach. Ostensibly dealing with a near-lethal dose of adrenaline, he nuts it and immediately loves it: “be good!” he yells three times. It lands pin high and bounds over the green. David Feherty says he has “nerves of titanium.” How much fun that walk on the back nine must have been for Spieth.
20. With Spieth on 18, Nantz notes that McIlroy (who shot 66 to finish fourth) and Spieth would be 1-2 in the world rankings come Monday, setting up a “rivalry for the future of the sport.” It made sense at the time: McIlroy, 25 and Spieth, 21. Sometimes things don’t’ go as planned. … McIlroy fell off a bit during Spieth’s run in 2015-18, and Spieth has been a nonfactor since McIlroy has reigned since 2019.
21. The only thing that wasn’t storybook about the day was the finish. Spieth has about eight feet for par at 18 to finish at 19 under and break Tiger’s scoring record. “Kinda reminds me of Tiger’s final putt in ’97,” Nantz said. He promptly shoves it way right. Never close. Faldo: “Worst stroke of the week.” Doesn’t really matter. He brushes in the bogey putt and Nantz finishes with: “One of the epic performances in the annals of the sport.”