Amongst the bright foliage and traditional splendour of the Augusta National Golf Club, Sheffield’s Danny Willett succeeded in capturing his first Green Jacket, the first Englishman to do so since Nick Faldo in 1996. That he is still an unknown quantity in his own country, largely obscured from public attention by the likes of Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, will make his victory all the sweeter. As will the irony of having almost missed the tournament due to the birth of his first child, who was born early.
But for all of Willett’s brilliance off the tee and exacting form with the putter, it was Jordan Spieth’s collapse on the final afternoon that really opened the door. Having led from the first day and with a seemingly unshakeable temperament, Spieth was on five under going into the par-three twelfth hole, only to record a seven having hit two balls into the water hazard in as many shots. Those who have succeeded at the Masters are aware that the course is a far greater mental than physical battle, and Spieth, who never truly felt comfortable with driver in hand throughout, lost that fight, consigning himself to the same pool of players as Rory McIlroy who possessed comfortable leads coming into the final day, only to let the occasion get the better of them.
Those who have succeedeD at the masters are aware that the course is a far greater mental than physical battle
Beyond the vagaries of individual play, Augusta proved to be a particularly fearsome opponent this year. The Friday and Saturday rounds were played in unpredictable, swirling winds that broke the confidence of many a player, and saw early high-fliers such as Ireland’s Shane Lowry and the accomplished amateur, Bryson DeChambeau fall away into the weekend. This year’s tournament also proved to have the lowest winning under-par score since Zack Johnson won with +1 in 2007. On the final day though, what had appeared as a likely gone conclusion was transformed into a day of enthralling golf. Three holes-in-one were recorded on the 16th hole with Louis Oosthuizen’s effort almost succeeding in knocking J. B. Holmes’ ball in, as well as his own. For a tournament that had placed its competitors up against the unrelenting conditions, the final day was a welcome reminder of the brilliance that can be achieved on Augusta’s greens, as well as the heartbreak that can result from an unfulfilled promise.
The tournament also bodes well for Europe’s chances at clinching a fourth Ryder Cup on the bounce in Minnesota in the autumn. In having five Europeans within the top 9 players and with Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose lurking just behind, Darren Clarke’s Europe have a very strong platform from which to work against their American colleagues, only three of whom featured in the top 9. The anomaly was Hideki Matsuyama, who having flirted with brilliance on one under at the close of play on Saturday, eventually fell back to even par having carded a 73 on Sunday. Beyond the likes of Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Holmes, the American contenders toiled badly, with Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler unable to even make the cut, as Brandt Snedeker and Billy Horschel failed to build on competitive weekday totals. For McIlroy, it was the annual story of repeat underachievement. He had fought successfully to keep Spieth within touching distance on the Friday, only to record an extremely mixed bag on the two final days, both his putter and iron letting him down with regularity.
For Spieth and McIlroy, this year’s tournament will no doubt be a learning experience, Spieth having just experienced his first major collapse in a Major as a professional, McIlroy still seeming unable to conquer Augusta’s formidable pin placements. Going into the rest of the season, both will need to find greater form across all aspects of their game, although Spieth appears in the better position to win the next Major, the U.S. Open, in two months time. Whilst this year’s tournament may not be considered as vintage, it proved the enduring spectacle of the Masters, a golf tournament unlike any other.