AUGUSTA, Georgia – A big deficit. A collapse that was painful to watch. An Englishman in a green jacket who might not get his due.
Nick Faldo has seen this all before.
On Sunday, it was Danny Willett who hit all the right shots to win the Masters.
“We all go out there and try and play good golf, and at the end of the day, someone has got to win the golf tournament,” Willett said in Butler Cabin as Jordan Spieth, his face still awash in shock, looked on. “And, fortunately enough, today was my day.”
Just like 20 years ago, when Faldo won at Greg Norman’s expense, this Masters might be remembered more for the way it was lost than how it was won.
Even as Willett stood on the 18th green in his green jacket, he couldn’t help but say to Jordan Spieth, “I feel very fortunate to be standing here, and you not putting the jacket on yourself again.”
This was Spieth’s to lose, and he did just that in matter of three holes.
Staked to a five-shot lead going to the back nine, Spieth found a bunker at No. 10 and made bogey. He hit into the trees right of the 11th fairway that led to another bogey. And then one swing changed everything. Spieth chose to fade a 9-iron toward the right pin on the par-3 12th and came up short and into the water. Going to the drop zone for an awkward distance, he hit his wedge so fat that it found the water again.
The quadruple-bogey 7 put him three shots behind.
Those are the shots for which this Masters will be remembered, at least in the immediate future. The images are not Willett clenching his fist when he made three birdies on the last six holes, but Spieth hanging his head as a five-shot lead turned into a three-shot deficit.
“It was a really tough 30 minutes for me,” Spieth said, “that hopefully I never experience again.”
Two weeks ago, Faldo was reminiscing about his six-shot comeback to beat Norman in 1996. Everyone remembers the short putts the Shark missed, the tee shot into the water on No. 12 that cost him the lead, and the 78 on his card. Faldo thinks more about the fact he shot 67 — the same score as Willett on Sunday — that was the lowest on the weekend.
Willett had a bogey-free 67 that matched the lowest score on the weekend this year.
He started the final round only three shots behind, tied with Jason Day, the No. 1 player in the world, and Dustin Johnson. The other three players ahead of him, and even those behind him, couldn’t sustain the round of golf that Willett put together.
Yes, Spieth lost it. But someone had to win it.
“I just feel fortunate that I was in the position that I was able to pounce on the opportunity,” Willett said. “If I had been 5-over par, then it wouldn’t have mattered what Jordan had done. Fortunately, I was in a position where we were in second place, playing quite nicely, and as a result of him doing what he did, we were able to stay at the lead.”
The victory was a surprise only in the way it unfolded, not the name on the trophy.
Willett was the No. 1 amateur in the world nearly a decade ago, the English Amateur champion in 2007 who played in the star-filled Walker Cup matches that year at Royal County Down that featured Rory McIlroy on his side, and an American team of Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Webb Simpson and Billy Horschel on its roster.
What slowed his arrival were back problems, which he described as a step below a stress fracture. He wound up having to withdraw from about a half-dozen tournaments a year until he could get it sorted out by changing his swing and sticking to exercises that kept it loose.
He has been showing up on big stages in recent years.
Willett reached the semifinals of the Match Play at Harding Park before losing to Gary Woodland and beat Jim Furyk in the consolation match. He won in Dubai at the start of this year, and then finished two shots behind Adam Scott at Doral in another World Golf Championship.
“We all know how good Danny is,” said Soren Kjeldsen of Denmark, who joined Willett in pushing Spieth on the front nine Sunday. “It’s no surprise, certainly to the European Tour players who know him so well. He is so good and on the rise, and I’m very happy for him.”
Willett goes to No. 9 in the world.
Where does he go from here? For starters, home to England to see his wife and their son, born March 30. Willett wasn’t expecting to play the Masters this year because the due date was Sunday of the Masters.
He had that date circled to become a father. That’s now the day he became a major champion. And as much as Spieth lost it, Willett earned it.