When Jordan Spieth’s birdie putt on the 16th green dropped into the hole just after 5:40 p.m. on another stirring Masters Sunday, Spieth had made up the nine strokes that formed the gap between him and Patrick Reed at the beginning of the day.
At that moment, any number of stunning outcomes were possible for Spieth over the next hour. The Augusta National course record was in reach. So was the record for the biggest final-round comeback in Masters history. And, oh yes, Spieth could have won his second Masters and his fourth major championship, all three months before his 25th birthday.
But as the ball disappeared into the cup at No. 16 and the gallery erupted with an ovation that shook a sturdy grandstand, Spieth did not react.
There was no celebration, not even a smile. At last, he turned to his caddie, Michael Greller, and said, “Are you kidding me?”
One takeaway from the 2018 Masters might be this: Golf fans might as well get used to Spieth as a dominant story line at Augusta National’s famed competition for a green jacket. Since 2014, Spieth has always seemed to be the one to watch — even when he has begun the day as an afterthought, as on Sunday.
All eyes did not turn to him immediately. The attention was on the final-group pairing of Reed and Rory McIlroy, whose Masters aspirations fizzled yet again. But Spieth began his day with birdies on the first and second holes.
Then he birdied the fifth, eighth and ninth holes, capping a torrid opening nine-hole score of five-under-par 31. Spieth was still four strokes behind Reed, who did not appear rattled. But perhaps because he is neither physically imposing nor long off the tee, Spieth attracts a fervent following in nearly every golf circle. And on Sunday, on the hills and hollows of Augusta National, the galleries began to relocate, quick-stepping so they could watch Spieth perform in Amen Corner.
Spieth’s final drive of the day just nicked a tree limb jutting into the narrow tunnel like opening off the 18th tee, and the ball ricocheted straight down, about 350 yards from the green.
“Not a real bad shot, just hit that little branch,” Spieth said later.
Spieth scrambled to give himself a makable par putt, but the round’s magical air had an expiration date. In the last second of Spieth’s round, his par putt drifted off the hole.
Walking toward the clubhouse as the fans around the 18th green stood and applauded, Spieth finally spun his head back toward the scoreboard.
“I was feeling pretty gutted at the finish,” Spieth said. “I was disappointed by the last part. But truthfully, I began so far back.”
As it turned out, Reed did not flinch in his Masters crucible moment as he negotiated the final hole with a steely poise to seal a one-stroke victory over Rickie Fowler.
Standing beside the Augusta National clubhouse here late Sunday evening, Spieth could see workers setting up chairs and a lectern for the ceremony that would end with Reed wearing the distinctive green jacket.
Spieth had been the centerpiece of a similar celebration three years ago. In 2014, he had been a 20-year-old Masters rookie who completed the tournament in a tie for second. In two other years, he had finished second again and contended late into the final day before slipping into a tie for 11th.