AUGUSTA, Ga. - What would have made this Masters really memorable and special is what ultimately made it impossible. It would have been remarkable, had 20-year-old rookie Jordan Spieth won the green jacket, and it looked like that was going to happen. The problem was, in the end, he played like a 20-year-old rookie.
Being a prodigy is not as easy as Spieth had made it look almost all week. Eras do not change without a fight, even though it looked like fate had set it up perfectly, continuing the 17-year cycle: Jack Nicklaus became the youngest Masters champion in 1963, Seve Ballesteros did the same in 1980 and Tiger Woods followed in 1997.
It seemed like history was hanging in the air, along with roars from a gallery that included two-time Masters champion, fellow Texan and mentor Ben Crenshaw. The latter pumped his fist and said, "Attaboy!" when Spieth sank a birdie putt on No. 7 for a two-stroke lead over Bubba Watson.
Then, before you could finish the sentence, "Jordan Spieth is the youngest Masters champion . . . " his game caught up to his birth certificate. He didn't overcome the bad luck of a pitch shot mysteriously defying the laws of nature and stopping short on a hard, dry eighth green. "I ran up thinking I would see it kind of drift by and it was, whatever, 25 feet short, which was pretty amazing to me," he said.
His approach shot on No. 9 touched the green then rolled back down the hill. In a two-hole stretch, his two-shot lead had turned to a two-stroke deficit. He wound up saying that he just didn't make the putts, which is what they all say.
"I've worked my whole life to lead Augusta on Sunday, and although I feel like it's very early in my career, and I'll have more chances, it's a stinger," he said. "And I had it in my hands."
In this case, disappointment was a really good sign. Spieth was not happy just to be here, which meant he will demand more from himself.
His caddie, Mike Grellen, recalled that Crenshaw's caddie, Carl Jackson -- a veteran of 53 Masters -- said recently that Spieth has moxie that not many young guys have. Part of moxie is realizing you can't take anything for granted. Consider Matt Kuchar, once considered a lock for a green jacket back when he was an impressive amateur here. But Sunday, there was Kuchar, 16 years later, fumbling a share of the lead.
Spieth knows he has work to do, especially if he wants to win the Masters at 21, as Woods did. He has to be a touch more patient, a shade mentally stronger. He just wasn't ready. Sunday was not his day.
"I got off to kind of a dream start for Sunday at Augusta. It's just so hard to play the first seven holes and I was three under through the first seven," he said. Still, he added, "Whether my face showed it or not on the back nine, I was really, really enjoying myself and taking it all in."
He grasped it all through the senses of a 20-year-old who has perspective. He knows it from parents who played college sports and a younger brother who plays basketball at Brown. He knows it mostly from a 13-year-old sister, Ellie, who was born with a neurological disorder. She doesn't really comprehend what her 20-year-old brother does on the golf course. She just likes seeing his face on TV.
Despite everything, that face managed to smile Sunday. You get the feeling it will become a familiar sight.