By Dan Reardon
Exiting each of the four majors is an ideal time to do postmortems and draw conclusions for the coming weeks. The political world likes to break down debate winners and losers, and we’re appling the model to the Masters.
When England’s Nick Faldo shot 67 on Sunday to win the ’96 Masters, all the conversation focused on Greg Norman’s collapse with a six-shot lead. Willett will gladly accept his first major and the green jacket, but it will forever be remembered as the Masters where Jordan Spieth gave up six shots to par in three holes and turned a five-shot lead at nine into a four-shot deficit at 13.
Mother Nature and the Weather Forecaster
Weather played a bigger role in the outcome than it has since 2007. Three days of wind kept bogeys in the equation, even for the leaders. The weather forecast played out exactly each day, enabling the club to condition the course precisely as they wanted. In the middle two rounds, only one player, Smylie Kaufman, broke 70.
The European Ryder Cup Captain walked away from the year’s first major knowing three of the top four finishers will potentially be on his team. Winner Danny Willett is a lock, while co-runner-up Lee Westwood and T4 finisher Paul Casey are more likely to be captain’s picks. American Captain Davis Love III had his own moment at Augusta with a hole in one on Sunday, but his top two American choices, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson, didn’t deliver in the moment.
It’s difficult to call a player who led the Masters for three rounds a loser, but there is no getting around one of the quickest collapses in major Championship golf. Spieth had made four straight birdies and stood on the 10th tee with a five-shot lead. Bogeys at 10 and 11 still left him one clear at 12. In a span of perhaps 10 minutes, he put two balls in the water and a third in the back bunker. With a quadruple seven, the five-shot lead became a four-shot deficit, not to mention a crushing experience.
Coming into Masters week, Fowler was on most short lists of favorites to win. He had taken all the steps necessary to go out and add the one element missing from his resume: a major. He built momentum from the start, birdieing three of his first six holes. But at the par-5 15th, he dumped his third into Rae’s Creek, bladed his fifth to the back edge and carded an eight. From there he added three more bogeys for a back-nine 44, a first-round 80 and a guaranteed weekend pass.
He stayed on the leaderboard all four days. But other than his opening five-under 31 on the front nine on Thursday, he played the rest of the tournament +5. Day’s satisfaction with a top-10 days are behind him.
Looking to complete his career grand slam, the Irishman, playing with Jordan Spieth in the final group on Saturday, had the task right in front of him. He shot 77 and finished +1, T11. The more Masters he goes without winning, the more it will get into his head.
No player was inflicted with more possibly permanent damage than the four-time major winner, and it came 10 minutes into his Masters. Already with a recent history of hiccups on short putts, the South African chipped to within three feet on the first hole. From there on, he was shattered. He backed off the first putt before leaving it weak and left. The next four were the same and from the same distance. A raked fifth putt and a tap-in gave him a nine on the hole, with six putts.
It didn’t get any better. His round of 80 included 39 putts. Back on the first on Friday, he had an even shorter putt for bogey and managed the same weak, left miss. He recovered through the day with seven one-putts and 10 fewer putts than in round one. But he was gone for the weekend.
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 32 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.