In his first two trips to the Masters, in 2014 and 2015, Jordan Spieth came second and then won with a record score of 18-under par. This year the 22-year-old returns as the defending champion and a solid favourite.
The Texan was just 14 years old when he set his sights on a green jacket, but could never have predicted he would equal Tiger Wood’s record low score and become the second-youngest player to win it.
Last year at Augusta National Spieth opened his account with a Thursday 64 – the lowest first-round score in 19 years. He backed that up with a Friday 66 to set a record low score after 36 holes. He also gave the all-star field a headache, with Rory McIlroy’s grand slam attempt and Phil Mickelson’s fourth green jacket both sliding out of the picture.
Over the following two days Spieth would display composure unseen in a 21-year-old since Woods won at Augusta in 1997, a year in which the former world number one rewrote history for lowest winning total, youngest-ever winner, and largest margin of victory.
Comparisons between Spieth and Woods were a natural byproduct of the Texan’s success and over the course of 2015 he proved he deserved the compliment with his victory at the US Open, a second place at the PGA Championship, and fourth at The Open Championship. He finished the season with a final win at the Tour Championship, securing the FedEx Cup and taking over $22-million home for the year.
‘It is a season to remember,’ he said at the end of 2015 after winning five PGA tour titles, two of them majors, and rising to world number one.
Last year’s success all started at Augusta National, where the two-time US Junior Amateur champion shot consecutive rounds of 70 at the weekend for a four-shot victory over Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson.
Spieth was the name on everyone’s lips while Woods, who finished 17th, battled injury and age. It was a ‘changing of the guard’ moment in golf.
‘What Tiger has done, I can’t imagine ever being done, but it’s nice to be in that company,’ said the youngster. ‘It’s awfully early, but I’m excited about where I am at the start my career.’
The hallmarks of greatness were all there for Spieth growing up. After winning the Junior Player of the Year title in 2009, he was invited to play the 2010 HP Byron Nelson Championship, where he became the sixth-youngest player to make the cut in a PGA Tour event and eventually finished 16th. He was 16 years old at the time.
In January this year, six years on, he shot the second-lowest tournament score in PGA Tour history – a 30-under-par romp to begin 2016 with a victory at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
One would expect Spieth to be a brutal champion who roars around the course, yet he is quite the opposite. ‘Mr Nice Guy’ is the best summary of his persona and he received a wealth of good wishes from the sporting fraternity after his 2015 Masters win.
Football star Gareth Bale tweeted, ‘Wow, Spieth,’ while former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan chipped in with ‘Can someone please remind [Spieth] that he is 21 … shouldn’t be this cool.’
The new star was overcome himself and on the Monday morning added, ‘Well … I’m glad that wasn’t a dream.’
He doesn’t hit the ball far or have an especially beautiful swing, but Spieth is solid. There is an air of inevitability when he stands over a putt, a sense that the ball is going to drop. And most of the time it does.
Amen Corner at Augusta National has been the undoing of many major hopefuls and on Sunday last year Spieth shouted ‘go hard!’ at his approach into the par-five 13th, which narrowly made it over the rocks and onto the green. Those sort of breaks change the course of a tournament.
Unflappable focus got the job done last year and the young star would only lose composure to bark commands at the ball. He made bogeys, two of them before the turn on Sunday, but ground out an exceptional result and took a comfortable walk up the 18th to claim his first major.
Back then he was a one-time PGA Tour winner ranked ninth in the world, but a year later he’s a two-time major champ who carries the ‘tournament favourite’ tag wherever he goes.
‘Honestly, it’s something I have not gotten used to,’ he said at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February. ‘It makes you appreciate some of these other guys who have gone before you and have been able to do it.’
The American hero’s return trip down Magnolia Lane will come with good memories and heaps of pressure. The golfing public has come to expect nothing less than the best from Spieth, who obliges with record-setting performances. To say that he will definitely contend at Augusta is premature. He has all the right ingredients, but pedigree is not the only factor involved in winning a green jacket. Bubba Watson’s magical hook shot from the pine straw in 2012 can attest to that, as can Greg Norman’s final-round 78 in 1996, which saw him gift the title to Nick Faldo.
Spieth bears the mantle of ‘world’s best’ very well and has everything to play for at the Masters this year. He shouldn’t be able continue doing what he does, yet the putts keep dropping.
This article first appeared in the April edition of SportsClub magazine.