Spi­eth seizes the mo­ment, wins Masters

The king’s Spi­eth: The kid kills it in the clutch, and now he’s golf­ing roy­alty

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - BILL PLASCHKE

At 21, he is the sec­ondy­oungest, af­ter Tiger Woods, to win at Au­gusta, and he ties Woods’ record score.

AU­GUSTA, Ga. — They came at the kid in waves, the world’s best golfers grab­bing and clutch­ing for four swel­ter­ing days, swarm­ing him with green jack­ets and Claret Jugs and Wana­maker Tro­phies and glares.

Jor­dan Spi­eth took their punches, all of them, stick­ing out his 21-year-old chin from the top of the Masters leader­board and ab­sorb­ing ev­ery bit of Tiger’s teeth, Rory’s re­silience, Lefty’s left.

Fi­nally, un­der the cloud­i­est of skies on Au­gusta Na­tional’s 13th hole late Sun­day af­ter­noon, the kid ce­mented his place in golf his­tory by punch­ing back.

It was his sec­ond shot on a long par-five. He was about 200 yards from a green sur­rounded by sand and woods and a trib­u­tary of Rae’s Creek. He was lead­ing the tour­na­ment by five strokes. He should have laid up in front of the wa­ter. He should have played it safe.

He didn’t. He took a chance. He went for the knock­out. He swung from his heels and screamed.

“Go hard! Go hard! Go hard!” he cried as the ball sailed through a cool breeze. “Go!”

The ball went. It car­ried the trib­u­tary, landed within 14 feet of the flag, and made the state­ment that re­sounded for the rest of the tour­na­ment.

“He’s fiery,” his cad­die Michael Greller said later. “He’s got that killer in­stinct.”

And to­day Jor­dan Spi­eth has that over­sized, old man’s green jacket draped around his shoul­ders af­ter be­com­ing the sec­ondy­oungest per­son to win the Masters, with a tour­na­ment record-ty­ing 18-un­der-par 270, four shots ahead of ma­jor win­ners Phil Mick­el­son and Justin Rose.

The debu­tante ball that be­gan Thurs­day ended in a Sun­day night waltz for the ages.

He wore white pants that didn’t get dirty. He wore a boy­ish ex­pres­sion that never changed. He was Tiger with­out the bleeps. He was Rory with­out the fold.

The golf world now has its fu­ture on Spi­eth dial. This new era will be played by Jor­dan Rules. On the same week­end Ben Cren­shaw re­tired, the sport has a new Texas two-put­ter who is equally gen­tle, but qui­etly tough.

“All in all,” Spi­eth said, “it’s re­ally cool.”

Cool is one word for it. Dom­i­nant is an­other. Spi­eth is the first golfer to lead this tour­na­ment from start to fin­ish in 39 years. He is only the sec­ond golfer in the Masters’ 79-year his­tory to lead by as many as three strokes af­ter the first round and never al­low any­one to get any closer.

“How easy he’s mak­ing it look, yeah, ab­so­lutely I’m sur­prised,” Rose said.

Sur­prised is one word for it. Crazy is an­other. While Spi­eth might not of­fi­cially be the youngest to win here — Tiger Woods was younger in 1997 — he cer­tain acts the youngest.

He is surely the first Masters win­ner who spent Satur­day night pre­par­ing for his fi­nal round by play­ing ping-pong with home­town bud­dies who were holed up in a nearby Mo­tel 6.

Af­ter putting away the pad­dles, he watched the movie “For­get­ting Sarah Mar­shall.”

“It was on TV, that’s why,” he said. “And it’s one of the great­est movies in the world.”

He is also surely one of the few Masters win­ners who walked off the 18th green with his arms wrapped around his mother and fa­ther, who joined most of his fam­ily to cheer his fi­nal putt. This group in­cluded his grand­fa­ther Don­ald, who in­sisted on climb­ing out of his mo­tor­ized scooter and walk­ing un­steadily to­ward the green to hug his grand­son. It was his win, too. On Fri­day, Spi­eth and his grand­fa­ther had pre­pared for the week­end by play­ing cards.

“I know he’s now the Masters cham­pion and all that, but let me tell you, he’s still just 21,” said Carter Hickok, a Dal­las-area home­town friend.

When Spi­eth took off his cap in public for the first time in four days Sun­day, his thin­ning hair and weary eyes made him look much older. But dur­ing the week, with a golf club in his hands, he was joy­fully all kid. He con­stantly talked to his ball. He ca­su­ally de­bated his cad­die Greller, a for­mer sixth-grade math and science teacher who says this job is eas­ier be­cause he only has to deal with one kid.

“A lot of things I used as a teacher, be­lieve me, I use out here with Jor­dan,” Greller said.

Spi­eth re­fresh­ingly con­grat­u­lated his play­ing part­ners on good shots, most no­tably smil­ing and giv­ing a thumbs up to Rose on Sun­day af­ter a nice ap­proach out of the rough. Spi­eth is also po­litely aware of fans, never say­ing any­thing worse than “Dang!” and al­ways us­ing his man­ners when ask­ing them to move.

“Please step back,” he gen­tly asked one gen­tle­men dur­ing one chaotic hole on Sun­day. “Thank you.”

All this and af­ter­ward, dur­ing his ac­cep­tance speech, he may have be­come the first Masters win­ner who said he wanted “thank the food and bev­er­age work­ers.”

His par­ents say that th­ese sorts of ac­tions, not the golf, are what make them so proud. This sort of per­spec­tive was the gist of his fa­ther Shawn’s pregame talk with Jor­dan on Sun­day morn­ing. They spoke at the house the en­tire fam­ily shared. Where else would Jor­dan stay this week?

“I wanted him to know what I thought was im­por­tant,” Shawn said. “I told him, ‘You know, you’re go­ing to face some ad­ver­sity out here . . . and this is the Masters . . . but it’s still just a game.’ ”

It is a game that Spi­eth has been dom­i­nat­ing seem­ingly since he mowed a cir­cle of grass into a sort-of putting green in his front­yard as a kid.

Check out the on­line video clip of the 14-year-old Spi­eth say­ing, “My ul­ti­mate goal, I want to win the Masters.”

Af­ter he won two U.S. Ju­nior Am­a­teur cham­pi­onships and led the Uni­ver­sity of Texas to a na­tional ti­tle, it was a game that brought him to his knock­ing knees last spring when he blew a two-stroke lead in the fi­nal round of the Masters, los­ing to vet­eran Bubba Wat­son.

“It stings right now, but the only thing I’m think­ing about is, when am I get­ting back next year? That’s what’s on my mind,” Spi­eth said dur­ing last year’s post­match in­ter­view.

Sure enough, he showed up here with a vengeance, grab­bing the first-round lead and ig­nor­ing the con­stant charges from play­ers he once only dreamed of meet­ing.

“Since he was 15, every­body was al­ways say­ing that he would be the next Tiger Woods, but, like, what­ever,” said his friend Hickok. “We never ac­tu­ally thought it would hap­pen this fast. This is nuts.”

What was nuts, ac­cord­ing to all the golf ex­perts, was that sec­ond shot on the 13th hole that re­sulted in a birdie that gave him a five­stroke lead and the con­fi­dence to fin­ish it.

“When you’re watch­ing it in the air, it felt like an eter­nity, you’ve seen so many things go wrong here,” Greller said. “Thank­fully he yelled at it just enough and it cov­ered.”

You see? While ev­ery­one has been jok­ing about Jor­dan Spi­eth talk­ing to his ball, it turns out the ball has ac­tu­ally been lis­ten­ing, dur­ing a week when the voice of golf ’s fu­ture be­came the voice of a cham­pion.

Jamie Squire Getty Images

GIV­ING AS WELL AS HE GETS , Jor­dan Spi­eth applauds the gallery at the 18th green as fans ap­plaud the 21-year-old Texan af­ter he be­came the sec­ond-youngest Masters cham­pion with a four-stroke victory. His 18-un­der-par to­tal of 270 tied tour­na­ment record.

Matt Slocum As­so­ci­ated Press

JOR­DAN SPI­ETH gets a hug from his grand­fa­ther Don­ald af­ter his first victory in a golf ma­jor.

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