Classic Exchange Stories: Spectacular Spieth collapse hands Willett wonder win

Danny Willett US Masters
Danny Willett dons the Green Jacket after a dramatic 2016 US Masters
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Steve Rawlings relives the 2016 US Masters which featured probably the most notable Masters meltdown of all-time, in the latest of our Classic Exchange stories...

"Having stood on the sixth tee on level par for the round, Spieth birdied four in-a-row to turn in 32 and to lead by five. More than £1m was matched at [1.12] and below and he hit a low of [1.09]."

Setting the scene

Jordan Spieth took to Augusta National like the proverbial duck to water. In his very first US Masters appearance back in 2014, at the age of just 20, he led the field by two strokes after seven holes on Sunday and he was matched in-running at just [2.2], having began the week as a lively outsider at [60.0].

Spieth was reeled in by the vastly experienced former winner, Bubba Watson, who went on to win cosily by three strokes but all who witnessed the young gun's brave run at the title, suspected that Augusta had a new course specialist to enjoy for many a year to come. And just 12 months later, that was confirmed in emphatic fashion when the 12/1 chance went on to take the title by four strokes.

In admittedly soft, and therefore easier conditions, Spieth shot the lowest 36-hole score, the lowest 54-hole score, and he made the most birdies (28) in US Masters history. He also equalled the lowest winning score (-18) at Augusta (set by Tiger Woods in 1997) and he became the second youngest US Masters winner of all time. Tiger had been 155 days younger than Spieth when he won in 1997. Spieth's victory saw him rise to number two in the world rankings and the question many golf fans were asking was: "how many Green Jackets can the Golden Child win?".

US MAsters bubba and Spieth.jpg

When Jordan drove down Magnolia Lane in the spring of 2016, he had current form figures reading a somewhat worrying 21-MC-17-18-9-13. A far cry from the impressive set 12 months earlier, that had read 7-4-17-1-2-2. He was also bidding to do something only three men had done before - defend the US Masters title. A feat achieved only by Jack Nicklaus (1965-66), Nick Faldo (1989-90), and Tiger Woods (2001-02).

Despite the obvious negatives, world number one, Jason Day, and Rory McIlroy were the only two men ahead of him in the market and he went off only fractionally shorter than he'd done 12 months previously. Very soon, those odds would look massive.

A fast start

Spieth shot an immaculate, bogey-free six-under-par 66 to lead by two strokes after round one. He ended the day trading at around [3.3] and a certain Yorkshireman going by the name of Danny Willett trailed by four in a tie for ninth after a very respectable opening round of 70. Willet was trading at around [42.0].

A vicious, ever-present and swirling wind greeted the field on Friday and only four men broke the par of 72, but only by a stroke. One of the four, world number three, Rory McIlroy, closed to within a stroke of Spieth, who still held the lead, and Willett, who matched Spieth's two-over-par 74, sat tied for eighth. The Sheffielder was trading at [50.0] at halfway and the market struggled to split Rory and Jordan. They dominated it and both were trading at around [3.5], although Spieth had already been matched at as low as [1.8].

Having opened up his second round birdie-par-birdie, Spieth had threatened to run away with the tournament but his group were put on the clock for slow play and a double-bogey at the sixth halted his Friday charge. He recovered well after that but bogeyed the last two holes. The event was billed as a two-man tussle at the halfway stage but the head-to-head battle simply didn't materialise.

Poor end to round three opens the door

It had been five years since Rory's infamous collapse at Augusta National and it looked like he might be ready for redemption but it wasn't to be. Incredibly, he failed to make a single birdie in round three (the first time he'd ever done so in a major) and instead of pushing the leader hard on moving day, he slipped tamely out of contention completely with a four-over-par 77. The ghost of 2011 still clearly haunting him.

Spieth wasn't entirely convincing in round three and a double-bogey at the 11th saw him go one-over-par for the day but he rebounded in fine style, birdying 12, 14 and 15. He parred the 16th and as he stood on the 17th tee with a four-stroke lead with an historic wire-to-wire, back-to-back victory starting to look a formality. The world number two was matched at just [1.39] but a bogey at the penultimate hole and a double-bogey at the last opened the door wide open again.

Stunning front nine opens up clear lead

Spieth entered the final round leading Smylie Kaufman by a stroke, and Hideki Matsuyama and Bernard Langer by two. He was trading at around [2.5] and the market adjudged world number one, Jason Day, who was looking to win back-to-back majors having won the USPGA in 2015, as his biggest danger. Day was trading at around [6.8] and he sat alongside Dustin Johnson and Willett in a tie for fifth on level par. DJ was a [11.0] chance and Willett was still trading at in excess of [20.0].

The final round started with the vast majority of Spieth's challengers jittering away their chances very quickly. Kaufman birdied the par five second but bogeyed the next two before going on to shoot 81! Matsuyama bogeyed the opening hole and played his first six holes in four-over-par and poor ole Langer was four-over through five. Day was one-over par after five holes and DJ two-over.

US Masters leaderboard.jpg

It was like the parting of the Red Sea with Willett being the only player to keep his nerve. He played the front-nine in a bogey-free two-under par 34 but Spieth was on fire.

Having stood on the sixth tee on level par for the round, Spieth birdied four in-a-row to turn in 32 and to lead by five. More than £1m was matched at [1.12] and below and he hit a low of [1.09]. Despite his fine start to the round, Willett was still available to back at [48.0].

Spieth's chances drowned out on 12

Apprehension grew for long odds-on backers as Spieth began the back-nine with back-to-back bogeys and he drifted out to [1.7] as he stood on the notorious 12th tee. Moments later, after he'd foolishly played straight at the pin and found Rae's Creek, he was instantly out to [5.0]. A further minute or two passed and he was wet again, and trading at a double-figure price.

Having been trading at [48.0] some 45 minutes earlier, Willett was now a [1.6] chance. Spieth was dead in the water and Willett's dangers were alongside him, in the shape of Lee Westwood, and ahead of him on the course.

Westwood was matched at a low of [6.0], after he'd eagled the par five 15th, but he bogeyed the 16th, Dustin Johnson hit a low of [5.0] before he double-bogeyed the 17th and even Soren Kjeldsen, who eventually finished tied for seventh was matched at only [18.0], having been matched on Saturday night at [1000.0]. His run came to end with bogeys at 16 and 17.

Willett strolls to victory

With everyone wilting under the pressure, Willett birdied 13, 14 and 16 before making an incredible up-and-down for par on 17 and a regulation four on 18 to stroll to a three-stroke victory.

Willett was the first Englishman to win a Green Jacket since Faldo exactly 20 years earlier and he was only in the field thanks to the early arrival of his son, Zachariah James, on March 30. Zachariah had been due on Masters Sunday and so late was Willett's entry that his caddy's bib number was 89 - the same number Jack Nicklaus' caddy had worn 30 years previously when he became the oldest winner at the age of 46.

April 10, 2016, had a profound effect on both Willett and Spieth. The former lost his form entirely and he had to wait almost three years for his next victory. He certainly didn't kick on after his unlikely major success and the latter's woes continue to this day.

Spieth gained compensation of sorts at Colonial the month after his spectacular collapse and he won the AT&T Pebble Beach and the Travelers Championship before he wobbled his way to victory at the Open Championship in 2017 but that was the last time he tasted success.

At only 26, he's still very young but he's now outside the world's top-50 and it's difficult to think that what happened almost four years ago isn't at least in some part responsible for his downfall. Hopefully, this current enforced break will give him a chance to get his mind and his game in order. At his best, Spieth is an incredible player to watch and it would be a tragedy if the Golden Child merely matured into the Mediocre Man.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

**

Check out our other Classic Exchange Stories, with Dave Tindall looking back at Liverpool's extraordinary comeback against Barcelona, and Max Liu recalling Donald Trump shocking the world and becoming US President in 2006.

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