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?”
To have a chance to have won the last five Masters is pretty cool. And that’s what I’m going to take away from today. There will be other years. Jordan Spieth
Throughout a worldwide golf community that is drawn annually to the final two hours of the Masters tournament precisely because it produces examples of unmatched drama like Spieth’s rousing charge, there must have been a lot of people with the same notion on their lips.
Are you kidding me?
And while Spieth did not set any records and he finished in third place, two strokes behind Reed, he nonetheless created another indelible Masters memory, something he has done in each of the last five Aprils as a perennial contender here.
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.
Jordan's 2018 Masters in Photos
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 03: Bubba Watson of the United States and Jordan Spieth of the United States walk across the second green during a practice round prior to the start of the 2018 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 3, 2018 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
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.
He came to the devilish par-3 12th hole, where he lost a late Masters lead in 2016 when he splashed two balls in the water, and shaped a steady tee shot close enough to knock in another birdie putt.
“I felt the crowd right then,” Spieth said. “I knew my history on that hole and they did, too. I started to think maybe something good was happening.”
But he refused to glance at any of the mammoth leaderboards on the golf course.
“I didn’t care,” Spieth said. “Things were working the way I was doing it. I wasn’t going to change anything.”