AUGUSTA, Ga. — Jordan Spieth was nine shots behind, virtually out of this Masters when he teed off Sunday in the final round. Not only was he trailing the leader, Patrick Reed, but major winners such as Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Henrik Stenson, an all-star cast.
The plan then was to play with no expectations, “stress-free golf,” he called it.
“I know where these Sunday pins are,” he told CBS-TV after the round, “and fortunately played the golf course exactly how it needed to be played.”
That plan worked until the fifth hole, where he made his third birdie of the day and his name went up on the leader boards.
“Then I just tried to stay patient,” he said, “and see what Augusta National could give.“
That’s a polite way of saying what Spieth — who won the Masters in 2015 and finished second in 2014 and 2016 — could take.
Which turned out to be a great deal.
When he holed a long putt at the tricky par-3 16th for his ninth birdie of the round, Spieth had swept to a cumulative 14-under and a tie for the lead with Reed, although he said never knew it, despite the roars from the fans and the large leader boards located at numerous locations.
“I didn’t look at one board,” he said. “The only time I knew where I stood was when I finished at 18. I knew every shot was important.”
Especially the tee shot on 18, his 72nd hole, which hit a tree, leading to his only bogey of the round. For the second time he shot an 8-under 64 at Augusta, equaling the first-round score of ’15 when he was champion.
“I was pretty gutted at the finish,” said Spieth, who finished two shots behind Reed.
Spieth was a shot back of his friend and rival Rickie Fowler, who gleefully said, “It was nice to get [a birdie] at the last and edge out Jordan.”
In his final round of 31-33, Spieth had nine birdies and the last-hole bogey.
“It was nice,” he said. “I look back, and man I did everything right.”
Except, again, for the tee ball at the 465-yard 18th, which left him unable to get to the green with the second shot.
Spieth had a first-round 66 but followed with 74 and 71.
“The two days prior to this one, the lid was on the hole,” he said about an inability to make birdies. “And then guys chipped in for eagles, balls stayed out of the water. When you win, you get those kind of breaks.”
The breaks for Spieth at Augusta have been both good — his victory three years ago — and unfortunate. In 2016 he was in front with seven holes remaining and then, wham, hit consecutive balls into Rae’s Creek.
“With eight people ahead of me starting the day,” he said of Sunday’s round, “I almost pulled off the impossible.”