Jordan Spieth Figuratively, Literally Gives Green Jacket to Danny Willet
Augusta, GA – Danny Willett is the 2016 Masters Champion. The 28-year-old from Sheffield, England is the first Englishman since Nick Faldo in 1989 to win The Masters. He is also the last since Faldo to win the tournament from outside the final group. Danny shot an incredible bogie-free 67. It is the third bogie-free 67 by a champion in Masters History. Despite the flawless final round, no one expected him to be wearing the green jacket in the end.
There is a reason the saying, “The Masters does not start until the back nine on Sunday,” continues to live on through out the history of this tournament. This year the reason was Jordan Spieth. There have been two repeat champions in the 80 years of the tournament. Nick Faldo (1988-89) and Tiger Woods (2001-02). Despite the difficulty of defending at The Masters, with nine holes to go and a 5 shot lead, the outcome was set in stone: Jordan successfully defends.
Before the final round, Rory Mcilroy, Jason Day, and Dustin Johnson were picked to take advantage of the calmer conditions and challenge Spieth. Danny Willett and Lee Westwood were dark horses, and if the twenty-four year-olds Smiley Kaufman and Hedeki Matsuyama could handle the pressure, they had an outside chance. As the final round proceeded, waiting for the big names to make a move proved to be futile. Day and McIlroy finished at (+1), as Johnson finished at (-1) for the tournament.
Danny Willett started the day 3 back Spieth at (E) even par. After shooting a (-2) under 34 on the front nine , he was moving in contention, yet still not being televised much. As the final group of Rory Mcilroy and Jordan Spieth completed the ninth hole, the Masters was nothing but over. Jordan is a two-time major champion( winning 2 out of the last 5), the 2015 Fed-Ex Cup Winner, the best putter on tour, and he just birdied holes six through nine to increase his lead to 5 over Willet. It was over.
Jordan proceeded to bogie 10 and 11. He hit his approach short and right on 10, then failed to get up and down. On 11, he hit his drive right again into the pine trees, forcing himself to punch out into the fairway. After missing an 8 foot par putt, Jordan stepped onto the tee at the second hole of Amen Corner. Number 12, a par 3, playing just 152 yards. On Sunday, it was the second hardest hole on the course, a hole where there was twice as many double bogies or worse (8) as birdies (4).
He tried to hit a nine iron that cut to the flag placed on the back portion of a narrow green defended by a large bunker in front, and its elevation above Rae’s Creek. “It was a stock nine iron.” “It was the right club, and the wrong shot,” Spieth said after his round. “I didn’t take that extra deep breath and really focus on my line.” “Instead I went up and I just put a quick swing on it.” For the third straight hole Jordan hit short and right of his target. The ball landed on the steep slope short of the flag, rolling back into the water.
Spieth chose not to use the drop area to hit his 3rd shot. Instead he decided to drop further away, from 80 yards. Jordan chose this longer distance because, he wanted to control the spin and stop the ball where it landed. Executing this with a 60 yard pitch shot when you are not swinging hard is difficult. The club head speed is not present to impart enough backspin on the ball.
Jordan sets up to the shot, and the rationale of the patrons rooting for their past champion can be heard telepathically: Jordan is hitting his 3rd after the penalty shot. At worst, he hits the green and two putts for a double bogie. He will then be only one behind Danny Willet (who is currently birding 13 and 14). Then the unimaginable happens. Spieth swings through, and hits the ground an inch behind the ball. The ball floats in the air with no velocity into the water for a second time. Jordan pulled his hat over his head, slowly grabbed another ball from his caddie, and dropped from the same spot again.
“It was really a tough 30 minutes for me that hopefully I never experience again,” Spieth said. The pain was felt by all who watched. He was now 3 strokes off the lead, and at (-1) for the tournament. Nevertheless, Jordan did not quit. He scored two more birdies at the par 5s, 13 and 15. “It was very, very cool what the patrons here did for me.” “They believed I could do it, and they made me believe I could too.” Jordan had to birdie two of the lsat three holes going in. After a great shot at 16 (par 3, 182 yards) to 8 feet, everyone thought Jordan was still invincible at the Masters. That failed to be the case, as he went (+1) on the last three holes.
The volatility from 5:05 to 6:00 pm was incredible. Simultaneously, during the same 55 minutes of Spieth’s collapse, Danny Willet moved to (-4) under for the tournament. He took advantage of great shots on 13 and 14 with birdies. He then birdied 16. After twog great nerve-testing pars on the final two holes, Willett waited to see if his final score of 283 (-5) under was good enough. It was by 3 shots.
Danny Willett played mistake free golf, not scoring anything over a bogie all week. He also scored the fewest amount of birdies (13) by a champion since 1999 when fellow European Jose Maria Olazabal won. This is a testament to his great ball-striking and putting. He also had only one three-putt all week, matched only by Soren Kjeldsen and Hideki Matsuyama, who both finished in a tie for 7th.
Along with his golf game, Danny Willett had two intangible assets that gave him the mental edge to out-perform the best golfers in the world on the biggest stage in professional golf: His final round pairing with Lee Westwood, and the birth of his son, Zachariah. Before the tournament he commented that he was “…on Cloud Nine.” “I’m happy to be here, but it was tough leaving them…”” I’m just trying to treat it as a good, fun week. A little bit of a freebie, almost.” Zachariah’s due date was April 10th, yesterday. Despite the prediction, he was born 12 days earlier. Allowing his father, who was going to miss the Masters for his birth, time to prepare for his first win on American soil.
His attitude on Sunday was noticeably better than any other golfers in immediate contention for the Green Jacket. There were four or five times where he was caught smiling on camera in the middle of his back nine , (-3) under 33. He seemed to be relaxed, grounded, and focused. “I could not have asked for a better pairing,” Danny said on being paired with Lee Westwood after the round. The 42 year old Westwood has ben a big brother of sorts to Danny. Coincidently, the comfort that he played with showed in his body language and scorecard.
The 80th Masters was another unforgettable tournament at Augusta. Augusta National Golf Club again sifted through the field, finding the golfer with the best mentality and tee-to-green game. Danny Willet earned the green jacket, but this Master will be overshadowed by Jordan Spieth’s historic, most-volatile collapse in Masters history. The only comparable meltdown is Greg Norman’s in 1986. Norman lost the six shot lead he held going into the final round to the eventual champion, Nick Faldo. Jordan reminded the golf world that he his human, and that golf is a cruel game. Despite being mature beyond his age, there are still lessons to learn, and future scares to endure.
Danny Willett was an underdog, but no fluke. “I’ve won a few times in the past, but this is a different league. It will take a while for it to sink in.” Europe has seen him perform under pressure and win a few times now. Most recently at the Omega Dubai Dessert Classic in February of this year. He made a 15 foot birdie putt to win on 18.
After his first major win, the now 9th player in the world is on America’s radar. His goal is to be number one, and if he continues to play like he did at Augusta the Englishman may achieve his goal. For now, he is the 2016 Masters Champion. Congratulations, Danny Willett.
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