Masterful Spieth joins golfing’s elite
One year after Spieth lost a bid to become the youngest Masters champion, the 21-year-old Texan turned in one of the most dominant wins ever at Augusta National. He never let anyone get closer to him than three shots after his record start. And he never gave anyone much hope on Sunday.
Spieth closed with a 2-under 70, missing a 5-foot par putt on the final hole that would have set yet another record. Instead, he tied the score set by Tiger Woods in 1997 at 18-under 270.
“This was the ultimate goal in my golf life,’’ Spieth said.
For all the talk about the Grand Slam bid by Rory McIlroy and return of Woods, this week was about the arrival of another star.
“It’s awfully impressive,’’ McIlroy said after finishing fourth. “It’s nice to get your major tally up and running at an early stage in your career. It’s great to see, great for the game, and I’m sure there will be many more.’’
Spieth became the first wire-to-wire winner at the Masters since Raymond Floyd in 1976, and this might have been even more special. Craig Woods in 1941 is the only other Masters champion who led by at least three shots from the opening round to the trophy presentation.
Phil Mickelson tried to make a run. So did Justin Rose. Neither got closer than three shots at any point, and it wasn’t long before Spieth was making another birdie putt to take the drama out of the back nine.
Mickelson (69) and Rose (70) tied for second. It was the 10th time Mickelson has been runner-up in a major. Woods closed with a 73, 13 shots behind.
Spieth won for the third time on the PGA Tour. He will rise to No. 2 in the world rankings, still a ways to go to catch McIlroy at the top. When McIlroy won back-to-back majors last year to establish himself as the game’s best player, the quest was to find a rival.
Spieth provided the answer on perhaps the biggest stage in the sport with his record-setting week at Augusta.
“I thought today might be easier having played with the lead on Saturday. It wasn’t,’’ Spieth said. “It’s the most incredible week of my life. This is as great as it gets in our sport.’’
And he will keep the editors of the Masters record book busy. Among the marks he established this week:
- The 36-hole record at 14-under 130.
- The 54-hole record at 16-under 200.
- Most birdies at 28.
- Lowest opening round by a champion at 64.
- Youngest player to lead after the opening round.
“He has no weaknesses,’’ Mickelson said. “He doesn’t overpower the golf course, but he plays the course strategically well. He plays all the shots properly. And he has that ability to focus and see things clearly when the pressure is on and perform at his best when the pressure is on.
“That’s something that you really can’t teach. Some players are able to do it, some players aren’t. And he is.’’
He twice went for the green on par 5s on the back nine, barely clearing the creek at No. 13 and going just over the back on No. 15, both times making birdie. The birdie on the 15th made him the only player in Masters history to reach 19-under par.
McIlroy had a 68-66 weekend, hurt by his slow start and put him 12 shots going into the weekend. He will have to wait until next year to try to win the Masters and become the sixth player to complete the career Grand Slam.
The way Spieth is playing, that task just got a little harder.