Apr 7, 2017

Jordan Spieth suddenly looks mortal. and it's unsettling


During the long buildup to the Masters, it became clear that Jordan Spieth was no longer interested in reliving the misery of the quadruple-bogey he made on the 12th hole during last year's final round.

At first, he was willing to oblige the media's curiosity, his polite Texan instincts superseding the weariness of having to recount, yet again, the worst meltdown of his golfing career. But after a while, Spieth made it clear he was no longer interested in helping with the psychoanalysis. Ask him about the 12th hole and his eyes would narrow. His brow would furrow. There would be an edge to his voice. He never explicitly said it, but the look on his face made his feelings apparent: Dude, are we really still talking about this?

Spieth may get his wish after Thursday. We don't have to talk about No. 12 anymore, and whether or not it will haunt him. That admittedly tired narrative is now dead.


Instead, we can talk about the 15th at Augusta National where, improbably, he made another quadruple-bogey, carding a nine on the 530-yard par-5.






Unlike last year's quad, which essentially cost him a second green jacket, this blow may not be fatal to his chances. He finished with a 75, and still has three rounds to whittle away at the leaders. But it leaves him with a lot of wood to chop if he's going to get all the way to the top of the leaderboard, especially after Charley Hoffman shot a 7-under 65.

How does one of the best golfers in the world make a quad on a hole that is, historically, the easiest on the golf course? Similar to last year, the wind shouldn't get all the blame, but it had a lot to do with it. The breeze was so strong throughout the day, it lifted sand out of the sand traps, made the giant trees on the property sway like they were slow-dancing, and toyed with and tormented the field when it came to club selection. The result was the highest scoring average at the Masters for a first round since 2007.

Spieth, though, chalked it up to a strategic error, not one related to the elements. His 15th began innocently enough. He slapped a drive down the middle of the fairway, then decided to lay up short of the pond that protects the green. He left himself 98 yards to the pin, a fairly simple distance for one of the best wedge players in the world, but one of the hardest shots at Augusta because the downhill lie the ball sits on is so severe. Spieth's ball had too much backspin on it, and when a gust of wind caused it to land about five yards short of his intended target, it spun back into the water. A collective groan rippled through the crowd.

"You think of it as a birdie hole, obviously being a par-5," Spieth said. "And unfortunately I still thought of it as a birdie hole today and it really isn't when you lay up. So I didn't take my medicine and hit it about 15 feet right with a club that takes the spin off. Instead, I was stuck in the 15-is-a-birdie-hole mentality, and it kind of bit me a little bit."

Determined not to hit a second ball in the water -- like he did on 12 last year -- Spieth took a drop, then hit a wedge for his fifth shot. The wind didn't knock it down, and the ball bounded over the green and nearly went in the water on the other side. From there, he hit a weak pitch to the front of the green for his sixth shot, then hit one of the worst lag putts you'll ever see the best putter in the game hit for his seventh. It still left him 8 feet to the hole. When he missed that putt and tapped in, it felt a little surreal to see a 9 on the card. That's a score you tease your friends for posting during a casual weekend round at your local muni, not something you see from a two-time major winner playing his favorite course.

"I just hit the wrong club," Spieth said. "I struck it very solid. I just used a club that would spin instead of a club that would maybe take the spin off. I obviously wasn't going to hit it in the water again, so I just went over and from there it's very difficult."

It's easy to understand why Spieth was tired of talking about what happened last year at 12. At some point, there was no benefit for him to relive it in exhaustive detail. When a reporter asked him early in the week if it was at all therapeutic to keep discussing it, Spieth initially conceded it might, then seemed visibly (and perhaps understandably) annoyed the more he thought about it.

"I think it's therapeutic to an extent if I talk about it, but I don't think on this stage," Spieth said. "I've been pretty honest and answered every question and there's nothing I haven't. I feel like I've been right to y'all in that sense, and no one has ever told me otherwise. ... But I also have to hold back a lot here because of how things can be, and that's no offense to you guys whatsoever. It's just strictly the nature of what I think is appropriate in moving on and lifting up when you're on a low."






Lost in the mess of 15 is the fact that Spieth played really good golf for much of the day. When he came to 12, he was fully aware of what was going through everyone's mind at Amen Corner as they watched him, even if he insisted it wasn't going through his. He hit a 9-iron to the right side of the green, safe but nowhere near the pin, and the crowd erupted with joy. "I was a bit surprised at how loud the cheer was when my ball landed about 35 feet from the hole," Spieth said. "But I was relieved to see it on the green, and I guess everybody else felt maybe more than I did on it."

It's impossible to say whether or not the quad on 15 will result in any mental scars similar to the ones No. 12 caused. Spieth clearly doesn't like it when people try to climb into his head, and he's unlikely to offer up any detail this time if it does. But the questions aren't going away, like it or not. Spieth went all of 20 holes at Augusta between quadruple-bogeys. He has played with so much fearless precision at Augusta, it has been a little unsettling to see him look, the past two rounds, suddenly this mortal.

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