By Sam McPherson
All that stood between Jordan Spieth and a second consecutive Masters win was the famed back nine at the Augusta National Golf Club. With a five-shot lead as he stood on the 10th tee, golf’s young sensation seemed poised for another coronation.
However, exactly 20 years after another coronation of sorts was supposed to occur, Augusta National proved once again to be a monster like no other in professional golf. Spieth proceeded to bogey the 10th hole, bogey the 11th hole and then quadruple bogey the 12th hole.
Meanwhile, England’s Danny Willett — ranked 12th in the world coming into the tournament and largely unknown to American golf fans — birdied the 12th hole, the 13th hole and the 15th hole to suddenly find himself in control of the tournament. Spieth valiantly tried to come back from the meltdown, but Willett’s bogey-free round of 67 on Sunday was too much to overcome as he finished at 5-under for the tournament.
With the victory, Willett became only the second Englishman to win the Masters. Nick Faldo won it three times, including the epic comeback in 1996 to deny Greg Norman his best chance at a green jacket. Every golf fan knows that story: Norman began Sunday with a six-shot lead and shot a 78, while the steady Faldo posted a round of 67 for the win.
The leader after each of the first three rounds, Spieth was looking to build upon his 2015 season where he won both the Masters and the U.S. Open and stir talk of a Grand Slam 2016 season. Now, it’s Willett’s opportunity to go where no professional golfer has gone before.
To Spieth’s credit, he played well enough on the other 15 holes Sunday to finish with a round of 73. But those three holes — including two water shots on the 12th hole — will forever haunt him. Seven birdies and six pars weren’t enough to overcome the three-hole disaster that started the back nine. Willett was just too good on Sunday down the stretch.
Given Spieth’s finish on Saturday, where he lost three strokes over the final two holes, it’s pretty incredible he managed to tie England’s Lee Westwood for second at 2-under for the week. The 42-year-old Westwood closed with a 69 on Sunday, remaining the most accomplished player in the world yet to win a major.
Including Paul Casey’s tie for fourth place at 1-under par, England produced three of the top six finishers. Matthew Fitzpatrick ended in a three-way tie for seventh place at even par, making it quite a week for the British golf fans in attendance at Augusta. Overall, England placed five golfers in the top 10 with Justin Rose rounding out the quintet.
Next On The Tee: The RBC Heritage
The RBC Heritage is played at the Harbour Town Golf Links course in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. This year’s purse is expected to be around $5.9 million. Longtime Tour favorite Jim Furyk is the defending champion, but he won’t be in the field for this week’s event. However, 2014 RBC Heritage champion Matt Kuchar is scheduled to play, along with 2011 champion Brandt Snedeker, 2012 champion Carl Pettersson and 2013 champion Graeme McDowell.
The expected field also includes the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer, Jason Day, who just finished the Masters with a 1-over par effort. The 2007 Masters and 2015 British Open champion, Zach Johnson, will play the RBC Heritage this week, after missing the cut at Augusta.
Day will be looking to improve upon his results at the Masters, where he shot 72-73-71-73 and failed to really have an impact on the leaderboard. As the world’s top golfer right now, Day is always a threat to win any tournament he enters. Casey didn’t win the Masters, but he might be able to use the momentum from Augusta to his benefit at Harbour Town. The same can be said for Fitzpatrick, as the English contingent looks to continue its solid play on American soil.
Willett is expecting the birth of his child this week, and almost skipped the Masters because of the April 10 due date. As for Spieth, perhaps taking the week off will shield him from some of the second guessing he will face in the coming days.
The Harbour Town Golf Links course plays 7,101 yards long and is a par 71.
Favorites: Jason Day, Paul Casey, Matthew Fitzgerald
Players to Watch: Brandt Snedeker, Danny Lee, Billy Horschel
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.