AUGUSTA, Ga. — They’ve so little in widespread, aside from they’re each chasing greatness. One grew up in Northern Eire and launches his driver prefer it’s a bazooka. The opposite was raised in Texas and wields his putter prefer it’s his Excalibur. One is a front-runner, the opposite a magician. They’re pleasant however not precisely pals. They’re, by virtually each measure, the 2 most vital and completed gamers of their era.
Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth each had an opportunity on Sunday to win the Masters, the match they every covet probably the most, and neither did. They needed to watch as Patrick Reed — a person who cannot fairly match their expertise however makes up for it in bravado — went house carrying inexperienced.
However the way in which every of them pursued Reed all through the day says so much about their respective relationship with Augusta Nationwide. Every has been haunted by a remaining collapse right here; McIlroy in 2011, Spieth in 2016. However Spieth’s 64 on Sunday felt like an exorcism, as he mounted an exhilarating cost that nobody noticed coming. McIlroy’s 74 seemed like precisely the other, a reminder that he appears destined to be affected by this place.
It is as if this course, and this match, was meant to juxtapose their strengths and weaknesses. As one man rose to the second, the opposite wilted. The truth that neither of them left victorious will quickly be forgotten, however what’s going to seemingly linger for years to return is that this:
Spieth is satisfied he’ll win a bunch of those.
McIlroy needs to be questioning if he’ll even win one.
“I almost pulled off the impossible,” Spieth mentioned.
“I just didn’t quite have it today,” McIlroy mentioned.
At Sunday’s outset, it felt like there was an actual probability this match was going to be McIlroy’s coronation. He had been specializing in the Masters for his total offseason, obsessing over its subtleties, tweaking his sport in preparation. Despite the fact that a win would make him simply the sixth golfer to finish the profession Grand Slam, the return of Tiger Woods gave him an opportunity to fly below the radar, deflecting among the stress and a spotlight that has dogged him lately. After three rounds, he was solely three strokes again. All of the stress, McIlroy insisted, was on Reed.
On the second gap, McIlroy hit a booming drive down the left facet of the golf green, not less than 50 yards forward of Reed’s ball. He adopted it by shaping a towering iron towards the flag, leaving him simply 5 ft left for eagle. Reed, after a nervous bogey on the first gap, seemed rattled. A make would have pulled McIlroy right into a tie for the lead. He missed. His shoulders slumped in disappointment, at the same time as he tapped in for birdie. A theme for the day was taking form.
Up forward, having teed off 40 minutes previous to the leaders, Spieth was stringing collectively what appeared, within the second, like meaningless birdies. He started the day 9 strokes behind Reed. No was fascinated by him climbing the leaderboard, not even Spieth. He advised himself he wasn’t going to have a look at the place he stood the complete day. Even because the roars grew louder and commenced echoing off the pines, he refused to look.
“The first time I saw the leaderboard was after I tapped in on 18,” Spieth mentioned. “Honest to God. When I finished, I could have been in the lead by two or been down by four. And neither one would have surprised me.”
There have been moments, although, when Spieth sensed one thing particular was unfolding. When he got here to the 12th gap, the place the place he had thrown away the 2016 Masters with two pictures within the water, it was deathly quiet. He hit an exquisite 9-iron that landed softly on the again of the inexperienced. When it got here to relaxation, he raised each arms within the air, a mix of celebration and aid. He high-fived caddie Michael Greller with gusto, then walked throughout the Hogan Bridge and rolled within the putt. Although he had no concept, he was all of a sudden inside three pictures of Reed.
“Probably the most pressure-packed shot I’ve ever hit,” Spieth mentioned. “I know what I’ve done, and my history there. To stand in that kind of pressure and hit the shot to the safe zone to knock that putt in was massive for me.”
4 holes behind, McIlroy was stepping into the wrong way. His drive on the par-5 eighth gap was up to now to the appropriate, he needed to punch out and ended up making bogey, considered one of solely two bogeys on that gap the complete day. On a day when the greens have been gentle and gamers round him have been lighting the leaderboard on fireplace, McIlroy hit solely eight greens in regulation. Solely 4 gamers within the subject posted a rating worse than his 74. By the point Spieth birdied the 12th, McIlroy wasn’t even holding on to second place.
“It’s frustrating,” McIlroy mentioned. “It’s hard to take any positives right now, but at least I put myself in the position.”
Again on 13, the drama was constructing. Spieth’s drive got here to relaxation simply on the sting of the pine straw off the appropriate facet of the golf green, leaving him with an agonizing determination. Hit Four-iron or hybrid? Greller beneficial hybrid. “I just think it fits the shape of the hole better, and gives you more margin,” Greller advised Spieth. It was time to rise to the second. The course document of 63, and the best remaining spherical within the historical past of majors, all of a sudden felt prefer it was in play.
Spieth gripped his hybrid, wiggled his ft, took one remaining take a look at the opening and hit a laser over Rae’s Creek. The ball got here to relaxation 12 ft from the pin. He could not fairly coax within the eagle putt, however when he tapped in for birdie, he reminded himself not to have a look at the leaderboard.
“Don’t worry about the tournament at all,” Spieth mentioned. “Even when I got to 6-under, 7-under, 8-under, 9-under, I still didn’t care. It was working for me, so there was no reason to change anything up.”
There was nonetheless another magical Spieth second but to return. His shot into the par-Three 16th was brief and left him a tough 30-footer. To make it, he’d need to putt the ball not less than a foot exterior the cup and let it trickle towards the opening whereas nonetheless being aware of not operating it properly previous if he missed. When it rolled in, it produced the largest roar of the week, one it felt like half the course might hear. Spieth turned to Greller in mock shock. “Are you kidding me?” he mentioned, shouting above the din.
And but, it was not fairly meant to be. On the 18th gap, needing another birdie to shoot 62, Spieth’s drive clipped the lone department that looms excessive over the golf green, and his ball fell to earth some 270 yards from the inexperienced. He made bogey, and the spell was damaged.
“To be able to have a chance to win this tournament five years in a row is really, really cool,” Spieth mentioned. “And that’s how I’m going to take today.”
As Spieth went to alter his garments, he hugged his family and friends, and he could not assist however discover considered one of his pals was holding a cocktail.
“How do I get one of those?” he mentioned.
“I’ll have one for you when we get to the car,” mentioned Annie Verret, Spieth’s fiancée.
One of many lesser-known truths at Augusta Nationwide is that probably the most deflating stroll right here is not up the 18th fairway while you’ve misplaced an opportunity to win a inexperienced jacket. It is to the parking zone, as soon as the match is over. Very similar to there’s a Champions Locker Room, the place solely earlier winners are allowed entry, there’s additionally a Champions Parking Lot, proper subsequent to the clubhouse. If in case you have a inexperienced jacket, you possibly can park there. For those who do not, it’s important to climb aboard a golf cart and be shuttled to an auxiliary parking zone, someplace within the distance.
As twilight settled in, a number of previous champions sauntered towards their vehicles. Nick Faldo and Craig Stadler walked gingerly towards their Mercedes SUVs. Sergio Garcia additionally got here by, fastidiously toting his new child daughter, Azalea, in a automobile seat. Even Danny Willett pulled up shut so his pals might climb into his automobile.
McIlroy’s agent, Sean O’Flaherty, finally emerged from the locker room and flagged down a golf cart. “Is it OK if I get his car and bring it here?” O’Flaherty requested, climbing aboard. The motive force nodded. On at the present time, nobody needed McIlroy to undergo any additional.