The 2015 US Masters is over and USA’s Jordan Spieth has been crowned the second youngest winner in the tournament’s history, matching Tiger Woods’ record Masters score of 18-under-par over 72 holes.
With the tournament complete and a new name looming large on the golfing scene, Sport360 takes a look at the winners and losers of the past week’s action from Augusta National golf course.
Could anyone else realistically top this list? Spieth was imperious from start to finish this week at Augusta National, leading the tournament from the off and barely giving his rivals even half a chance to catch up once he had opened up his initial advantage.
Spieth set the 36-hole tournament record, the 54-hole tournament record, and then became the first person in the tournament’s history to reach 19-under par at any point in the event—even if he would ultimately finish at 18-under, the exact score by which Tiger Woods won his first Masters back in 1997.
Jordan Spieth tied the Masters’ record for lowest score … but that’s not all he did pic.twitter.com/XpHZRQZY1P
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 12, 2015
Spieth copped to some nerves afterwards, but on the course he never really looked unduly flustered by the whole experience. Considering those who have seen significant Masters leads slip away before—Greg Norman, Rory McIlroy—that was extremely impressive from one so young.
“It was very nerve-wracking today,” Spieth reflected. “I did not sleep at all last night. With two major champions right behind, I could not let up. It’s the most incredible week of my life.”
Woods was 21 when he made his Masters breakthrough, while both Seve Ballesteros and Jack Nicklaus were 23 when they first donned the green jacket. That is the sort of calibre of player the Texan has joined, with his victory at such a youthful age.
Naturally, perhaps inevitably, all the comparisons in the immediate aftermath were with Woods’ win, although perhaps Spieth’s success was more akin to Nicklaus’s first triumph— especially in the way he powered to victory as Rory McIlroy, the man expected beforehand to dominate, was never even given a chance to catch up.
When Nicklaus won his first he outclassed a certain Arnold Palmer, and what Alfred Wright of Sports Illustrated wrote then perhaps also applies now: “Nicklaus apparently has resolved to start a new era before that of Palmer (and, to a lesser extent, Gary Player) has even begun to ebb. If you did that in show business, they would murder you for stepping on the other fellow’s lines. But Jack may get away with it.”
Spieth may get away with it too. McIlroy is perhaps too good, and certainly too long off the tee, to ever be pushed aside in the same way Palmer was, but it certainly seems that Spieth will very soon become a more than viable rival to McIlroy: If he isn’t already.
The world No. 1 spot is no longer a foregone conclusion (Spieth will be No. 2 when Monday’s updated rankings are revealed), and both players will now be firmly in the discussion at each and every major for the next few years, perhaps decades.
“This is as great as it gets in our sport,” Spieth added. “This is a dream come true for me. To shoot some low rounds, and see some putts go in, and hear those roars, it was incredible.”
There may be many more such moments to come. This was Spieth’s tournament from start to finish, and no-one will ever forget it.
“Considering where I was, to make the complete swing change, to rectify all the faults and come to a major championship and contend – I’m proud of that part of it,” Woods reflected. “I just wish I could have made a few more putts.”
Really enjoyed Woods’ tournament. He was always a massive punt to win the #Masters but proved he can still compete. More to come hopefully
— Jay Jaffa (@jayjaffa) April 12, 2015
Perhaps that is what makes Woods so great, that unwillingness to accept anything except perfection in his pursuit of greatness. For any mere mortal, however, this would have been a week of unimaginable success, an achievement on a par with any major win while he was at his prime.
Considering where Woods was—duffed chips, duck-hooked drives, persistent injury problems—and how long it has been since he last played, this was an incredible display. Tiger might not be back just yet, but we saw glimpses of his best this week. He made the cut (when few experts expected him to), he briefly scared the leaders, he got Augusta electrified once again.
After months, years even of disappointment and fears over his future, golf fans can get excited that Tiger still has something more to achieve in the game.
We will wait and watch, as we have always done, except now with hope renewed.
His final Masters appearance ended as most of them seem to do for the legends of the game – by missing the cut by a not inconsiderable margin – but that should not detract from the poignancy of the moment for the great Ben Crenshaw.
“Gentle Ben”, as is affectionately known, won the Masters in both 1984 and 1995 (it is remarkable to think his last win came just two years before Tiger Woods’ first), the second of those coming in emotional circumstances, just a week after his mentor, Harvey Penick, had passed away.
On Friday he bowed at, the 63-year-old waltzing into retirement after leaving a memorable legacy at Augusta.
“It’s been a huge part of my life,” Crenshaw said on Friday evening. “I’m sure [my wife] Julie and I will come here and we’ll play, but we’ll have fun playing. And it has been fun. It’s been so much fun. It’s wonderful.”
Crenshaw’s story, and the quality of his golf game, will have been unfamiliar to a whole generation of golfers, but his Masters swansong enabled a whole new audience to be informed of his class, and learn a bit more about the long and successful relationship he enjoyed with his caddie, Carl Jackson, throughout his career.
“I said, ‘I love you’ and he said, ‘I love you’,” Jackson revealed of their final collaboration at the 18th green. “That sums it up.”
Already penciled in as one of the men likely to replace Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player when they are no longer able to perform as honorary starters, Crenshaw’s association with Augusta National is unlikely to end just yet.
But nevertheless Friday was an emotional send-off for one of the great ambassadors for the game, a fine moment for spectators from a number of generations to pay their respects.
He was hardly shown on the television coverage throughout the four days, but a stunning final round 66 nevertheless saw Hideki Matsuyama sneak in and clinch a top-five finish—his best finish yet in a major championship.
Spieth this, Speith that. What about poor old Hideki Matsuyama. 5th place & he couldn’t get any airtime. What am I missing? #Phantom
— Tom Court (@TomCourt1) April 12, 2015
The Japanese has made the cut in three of his four appearances at Augusta National and, still just 23, has marked himself down as a likely contender at the tournament for many years to come with the quality of his play around the layout.
He won at Memorial last year (a similarly difficult, and historic, American golf course) and has the sort of unhurried swing and precise short game that is always going to be successful in the big events.
An Asian player has never won the Masters (indeed, YE Yang is the only Asian ever to win any major), but it would seem a reasonable bet that Matsuyama will break that duck before his career is done.
That would be a huge thing for him, and a significant thing for golf as well—considering the attention Ryo Ishikawa brought the game in that corner of the world, a successful Japanese player would really move the needle.
Most players would be content to finish in the top five at the Masters once in their career: For Matsuyama, you sense it is merely the start of better things to come.
He came into the tournament with all the hype, all the expectation on his shoulders, and perhaps that was the beginning of his eventual downfall.
Tiger Woods’ decision to participate in the event helped draw some of the spotlight away, but nevertheless McIlroy seemed knocked out of rhythm by the expectation—some of it self-inflicted—that surrounded him. A top-five finish would be fine for most players, but McIlroy has higher standards than all of them: That’s why he’s world No. 1.
A slow, sloppy start to the tournament was evidence enough of the anxiety the Northern Irishman was feeling, and once Spieth found his groove the four-time major champion was always playing significant catch-up.
That dynamic hardly seemed to help him either: Paying the price for pushing too aggressively in pursuit of Spieth for the first 45 holes, it was arguably not until the back nine on Saturday that McIlroy finally settled into the sort of groove we have come to expect from the world No. 1.
Tiger Woods shoots 73 in final round, finishing Masters at -5. Rory McIlroy finishes at -12 after shooting 66 Sunday. pic.twitter.com/YUncdQhr6n
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 12, 2015
Perhaps even his best all four days would not have been good enough to beat Spieth this particular week, but McIlroy never really gave himself the opportunity. His final 27 holes were as good as any player out there, but nevertheless his hopes of completing the career grand slam will have to wait for another year.
We already knew that the Augusta course set up nicely for McIlroy, that he just needed to find his A-game to clinch his first green jacket. In the end the expectation proved insurmountable: It would be no surprise if he is a much stronger contender at the other majors this year, when the scrutiny is slightly less intense.
For the second time in his career, Bubba Watson made a surprisingly limp defence of the title he won in such impressive circumstances 12 months ago.
Such is Watson’s complete domination of the Augusta course that when he is form we tend to think that he can never be beaten there but, much like Manchester City, it seems he lacks something of the hunger required to successfully defend his crown.
Much like in 2013 the American narrowly made the cut (so at least he had something to do over the weekend before he presented the green jacket to his successor), but he never threatened to make any sort of tangible move as he ultimately finished in a tie for 38th.
If anything his most contribution to the week were his trivia Q&As on Twitter after each competitive round: The two-time champion in the bizarre situation where he was asking his followers which manufacturer produced the first green jackets right around the time Spieth was extending his on-course advantage.
Perhaps Watson, without the strain of all the media and PR commitments that come with being the reigning champion, will return to Georgia next year back on form and back at the top of leaderboard. But that does not mean that his performance this week was not a significant disappointment, one it is hard to adequately explain.
“Well, I never thought that I have no chance,” Martin Kaymer said at the start of the week, when asked if he felt better about his chances this week than in seasons past. Yet despite his bullish outlook the German would go on to miss the cut, his fifth such failure in eight appearances at the event.
So hard to figure golf … thought one of best groupings was Snedeker, Holmes and Kaymer. No one could imagine all three would miss cut.
— Jay Posner (@sdutPosner) April 10, 2015
Much has been made of Kaymer’s struggles at Augusta, how his natural fade did not suit the course at all and, when he tried to add a draw to his game specifically to improve in the Masters, the tweaks to rectify that knocked his whole swing out of whack, sending him plummeting down the world rankings.
Kaymer appears to be back on an even keel now—he is, after all, the reigning US Open champion—but clearly his struggles with Augusta still linger. The world No. 14 he may be, but at Augusta he is barely any better than most of the amateurs that get invited along.
Perhaps Kaymer will never be a threat around Augusta, but if that is the case it will always be a huge black mark against his career CV. Great players have seemingly always found a way to contend, and often win, at the Masters—Kaymer might be a two-time major champion, but some will always look down on him slightly if he never manages to get to grips with perhaps the most beloved golf course in the sport.
Adam Scott’s decision to revert to the long putter for this tournament was a telling one: The weapon might be illegal from next year but, for as long as he is allowed to wield the club that enabled him to clinch his first major win back in 2013, the Australian is going to use it.
“I’m coming to a major,” Scott said ahead of the tournament. “I’m not here to throw the balls up in the air and see where they fall. I want to make sure I give myself the best chance to perform at the highest level I need to win. Basically that will be with the longer putter because I’ve done more practice with it.”
You cannot really fault the rationale; considering how much the long putter has undoubtedly improved his scoring on the greens, and how the Masters is the one major he has won, he would have been foolish to do anything else. But an eventual finish in a tie for 38th was hardly the outcome he was searching for, and now it is tempting to wonder whether Scott will ever be a strong contender at Augusta again, on greens where his tension with the short putter will surely be glaringly exposed.
A reminder of the danger lurking ahead for the leaders: Adam Scott just put 2 in the drink on 12. Headed for a quad.
— Will Gray (@WillGrayGC) April 12, 2015
Scott has three more majors to use the anchored technique, with the pressure to make the most of them ratcheting up as each one passes by. He will have hoped to have been a far stronger contender this week than he ultimately was—that will be a serious disappointment for the one-time champion, and it will take plenty of time with the short putter for the Australian to get back to the sort of standard on the greens he has been in previous years.
He may never get back to that point: If he doesn’t, we may pinpoint this week as the last one where he was a serious Masters contender. If that is the case, he did not make the most of it.
Know more about Sport360 Application