Tiger Woods reflects on how special it was to play the Par 3 contest with his children at the Masters.
USA TODAY Sports
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Jordan Spieth stepped to the tee of the 12th hole at Augusta National Golf Club on Tuesday, took back his 8-iron and sent his golf ball toward the distant flag.
The shot looked brilliant from the get-go, the result equally satisfying as the ball came to rest one foot from the hole.
“I really could have used that one about 12 months ago,” Spieth said with a smile to the massive gallery behind him.
Significant laughter broke out and whistled through the Georgia pines around the heart of Amen Corner. Spieth bounded off the tee toward the flagstick 155 yards away, crouched down into the familiar putting stance of Arnold Palmer, and tapped in for birdie.
It was the latest illustration of Spieth distancing himself from the final round of the 2016 Masters, when the hole they call Golden Bell rung his bell.
Spieth was defending his 2015 title and took a five-shot lead to the back nine on Sunday. But after bogeys on the 10th and 11th, he dumped two balls into Rae’s Creek, made quadruple-bogey 7 and lost his lead. Spieth rebounded with birdies on two of his next three holes and had a putt on the 16th to get within one shot, but he couldn’t fully undo the damage.
Instead of joining Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods as the only players to win back-to-back Masters, Spieth slipped the green jacket onto Danny Willett’s back as is the custom for the defending champion.
Spieth admirably stood tall and spoke to the media about the 20 minutes on the 12th hole that altered the narrative of the tournament and changed the next 12 months of his life. While he didn’t field questions about his collapse every day, it seemed like it, as the 2016 Masters became known more for Spieth losing than for Willett winning.
The inquiries into the state of his mind, at times, became irritating, certainly mundane. But true to his nature, the young Texan and two-time major champion never shied from answering all questions.
“I’ve been pretty honest and I’ve answered every question. I feel like I’ve been right to y’all in that sense and no one’s told me otherwise,” said Spieth, who has won three times worldwide since leaving Magnolia Lane last year and is ranked No. 6 in the world. “Like anything, you go through ups and downs in life and in golf. …
“I believe that certainly you don’t want to hold stuff in. I would be crazy. But I also have to hold back a lot here because of how things can be and that’s no offense to you (the media) 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, staying up when you’re high and that’s what you’re looking for in those therapeutic experiences.”
Two questions later in his pre-tournament meeting with the media on Tuesday, the 12th hole came up again.
“It is one of many tournaments I’ve lost given a certain performance on a hole or a stretch of holes. It happens in this game,” he said.
Spieth tees off Thursday in the first round of the 81st edition of the Masters at 10:34 a.m. ET, meaning that around 1:30 p.m., one of the most anticipated first-round shots in a long time will be hit. Spieth will certainly think back to last year, but he isn’t haunted nor are demons circling him.
“When you’re at Jordan’s level, you’re going to have heartbreak and unbelievable triumph. You don’t get the good without the bad,” said Michael Greller, Spieth’s caddie. “Obviously there was some bad to last year’s Masters, but the good, what I’m choosing to remember, and I’m sure Jordan is choosing to remember, was how he responded those last six holes. …
“And to know what he didn’t have at the start of the week, and the cracked driver, and then after what happened on 10, 11 and 12, to still bounce back and have a chance to win is immense. That’s who Jordan is. He’s a fighter, he’s more stubborn than anybody you’ll ever meet on the golf course, and I’ve never seen him quit. At the end of the day it wasn’t the end of the world.”
Instead of sweating the tee shot at 12, Spieth is more concerned with the likes of world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, No. 2 Rory McIlroy, No. 3 Jason Day, No. 4 Hideki Matsuyama and so forth. He also is mindful of the two days of expected steady high winds that will turn Augusta National even fiercer.
“(High winds) just puts more of a premium on speed putting. I mean, big time,” he said. “You don’t want to have 5?footers from above the hole when the wind is blowing. The (greens) are already as challenging as anywhere here, and they become a less than 50/50 chance from five feet with the wind blowing. Because of the speed of the greens and the amount of slope there is, the wind affects the ball that much more.”
Spieth also is mindful that in three years in the Masters, only two players have beaten him — Bubba Watson in 2014 and Willett last year. He trusts his game plan. He can’t wait to get to the first tee — and then the 12th hole.
“I’m excited about the opportunity ahead, which is now I can go back and really tear this golf course up,” Spieth said. “I’ve got many opportunities to go back and really create more great memories on the back nine of Augusta, which we’ve had in the past on Sunday. And if it happens this year, fantastic. I will do all I can to see all the positives and to grind it out like we did in 2015. And if it doesn’t happen this year, then I’ll be ready the next year to do it.”
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