AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Golf has seen bigger collapses. Some were probably tougher to watch.
“I can’t imagine that was fun for anyone to experience, other than maybe Danny’s team,” Jordan Spieth said when it was over, with a nod to eventual winner Danny Willett.
Nothing describes Spieth’s slow-motion wreck Sunday at the Masters better than the way a character in “The Sun Also Rises” answers the question “How did you go bankrupt?”
“Two ways,” he replies. “Gradually, then suddenly.”
Just past 5 p.m. on a crisp Sunday afternoon, Spieth had just made the last of four straight birdies at No. 9 to go 7-under. He was holding a 5-shot lead, apparently cruising toward a second straight Masters win in only his third start.
Just as impressive, that run of birdies appeared to have buried the memory of Spieth’s mini-collapse just a day earlier, when he bogeyed No. 17 and made double-bogey at the last hole to close out Round 3.
Then came the pushed drive to the right at No. 10, followed by an approach shot into a greenside bunker and a bogey. Next, Spieth pushed it even farther right off the 11th tee, punched it back into the fairway and then onto the green; two putts later, he made another bogey, shrinking his lead over Willett to two shots.
His troubles were just beginning.
The par-3 12th green already held bad memories for Spieth, lingering from his debut. In 2014, he put a ball into Rae’s Creek, but put his next shot on the ribbon-shaped green and walked off with a bogey. This time, he pulled a 9-iron to cover the 155 yards and hit it only 148. His second try, unlike two years ago, went even worse.
Trying to avoid a slope, Spieth dropped 68 yards from the flag.
“I’m not really sure what happened on the next shot,” he said. “I just hit it fat.”
Small wonder he blocked out the memory. In fact, Spieth stuck the wedge deep enough in the ground to dislodge a piece of turf the size of toupee, and sent the ball ballooning a measly 48.
Spieth’s third try was from 70 yards and this one flew 80, into a back bunker. An explosion shot, another putt, a quadruple bogey and though seven holes remained — enough for Willett to pile on three birdies — the tournament was basically decided. The deficit was too big.
Though Spieth’s total for the day was only 73, little else about it felt respectable.
As he walked off the 18th and toward the scoring office, the gallery ropes pulled taut to hold back the crowd, that small corner of Augusta National became an echo chamber. Applause from fans lining both sides built to a roar. For the rest of the walk to the clubhouse, Spieth kept his nose stuck in the notebook holding his scorecard.
It wasn’t that the math was so difficult; more likely, Spieth was still having some difficulty believing what he saw. A few moments later, after signing his scorecard, he turned up in Butler Cabin to put the green jacket on Willett and in one last indignity, nearly tripped getting out of his chair.
He expects to have that falling feeling for some time.
“Big picture,” Spieth said finally, “this one will hurt. It will take a while.”
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org and at Twitter.com/JimLitke.