Considering the stage and the fact that we thought we had a player that was ripe for it, it’s easy to make the 2016 Masters about Jordan Spieth. The 22-year-old was sizing up history, leading by five strokes as he made the turn before disaster struck.
The benefactor was Danny Willett, a 28-year-old Englishman who has been a household name on the European Tour and is ranked No. 12 in the world, but hasn’t had a ton of success in the United States.
Yet, Willett will wear green and, with a masterful 67 on Sunday, he deserves the world’s attention. But because it was Spieth and because it seemed to be destiny, his story gets told second. Luckily, it’s worth waiting for.
After bogeying 17 to fall three shots behind Willett, Spieth completed the walk up 18 with tears in his eyes. A brilliant student of the game, Spieth understood the magnitude of what he was pursuing (youngest two-time Masters winner, fourth ever to win in back-to-back years, first ever to go wire-to-wire in two consecutive years, etc.). The weight of it all came crashing down upon his shoulders as he took a walk that he had expected to be so much more jubilant such a short time earlier.
Still, he gracefully acknowledged a crowd that longed to see him fill the Tiger-sized void in their golfing lives and he was met with a rousing applause. Of course, Spieth was undone long before the emotions finally caught up with him. Bogeys on No. 10 and No. 11 started the slide, but the tournament was still his when he walked to the 12th tee box, when all of a sudden it wasn’t.
In the heart of Amen’s Corner, where the wind swirls in secrecy above the treetops unbeknownst to the golfers below, Spieth played a short iron into the difficult front pin location. He got short and quick with it–as he’s done at times this week–and failed to get around on it. As it cut, it lost steam, landing on the embankment before swiftly retreating back into the pond.
But still, had Spieth gone to the drop zone and stuck a wedge to save bogey, he’d have still been your champion. But he further compounded the mistake by playing it back towards the 13th and fatting his recovery shot squarely into the water.
After bombing his next attempt into the bunker, he wound up eating a seven for a quadruple bogey. Birdies on 13 and 15 gave him a chance, but when a short birdie putt dove underneath the hole on No. 16, it was ostensibly over.
Spieth led seven consecutive rounds at the Masters and came away with the jacket in 2015. And while 2016 is as disappointing as anyone could imagine, he’ll be back. And so we cede way to Willett.
Willett went out three groups ahead of Spieth and gave chase all day. And while Spieth ran out to a large number, Willett methodically attacked the golf course, which finally decided to yield some birdies on Sunday after two days worth of wind gave up just one round in the 60s on Saturday and Sunday.
He birdied No. 6 and No. 8 on the front, before turning and burning to take advantage of the scoring setups from No. 13-16. Then, with knowledge of Spieth’s demise making its way to the leaderboard and showing Willett as the new frontrunner, he calmly made par on 17 and 18.
Augusta, GA, USA – Danny Willett throws his fist in the air on the 18th green after finishing 5-under during the final round of the Masters on Sunday, April 10, 2016, at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga.
Waiting in the clubhouse to see if Spieth could reverse his fortune and make for a playoff, Willett Facetimed with this wife, Nicole, who turns 28 on Apr. 11 (it’s already her birthday back home in England). They spoke of their son, who was due tomorrow but was born a couple of weeks early, making it possible for Willett to play this week.
And that’s what makes Willett’s story remarkable despite the fact that Spieth’s collapse is bound to dominate headlines. If any number of other scenarios play out, Willett isn’t even on our radar as the Masters champion.
If his son is born on time, he never makes the trip to Augusta. If Spieth doesn’t make a mess of 12 in about three separate ways, he finishes second or lands in a playoff where just about everybody on the grounds prays he’ll be a footnote in history.
Instead, he gets on a plane, guts out some of the worst weather in Masters history and shoots a bogey-free round in the shadows of a giant on Sunday to win the tournament. And now, in a sport where everybody is looking to etch their names into the game’s incredible 700-year history, Willett will be remembered forever as the 2016 Masters champion.
That’s remarkable regardless of any caveats about Spieth that come with it.