AUGUSTA, Ga. — The impulse, at the end of a masterful four days of golf, will be to zoom out and go big picture on 21-year-old Jordan Spieth: Did his decisive, four-stroke victory in the Masters just announce his arrival as Tiger Woods’s heir to the throne of American golf, Rory McIlroy’s career-long archrival and the new face — humble, clean-cut and telegenic — of the sport? Yes, this was a performance for the ages, and those are fair questions — but only Spieth can answer them and only many years from now.
Instead, let’s simply savor what he just accomplished — the history he made, the pressure he withstood and the shot-making he displayed across these 72 holes. It was a performance unsurpassed in the eight-decade-long history of the tournament, and it may be another long while until anyone equals it.
His final score was 18-under-par 270, tying Woods’s 1997 tournament record, but before a depressurized bogey on the final hole, he was at 19 under — a level no one in Masters history had ever reached. A final round of 70 left him four shots ahead of Justin Rose (70) and Phil Mickelson (69) — for the latter, his 10th career runner-up finish in a major — and completed the first wire-to-wire win here in 39 years.
“It was the most incredible week of my life,” said Spieth, who would be a senior at the University of Texas had he not left to turn pro two years ago. “This is as great as it gets in our sport.”
Starting the day with a four-shot lead and some of the most legendary names in the sport chasing him — on a course where, a year ago, he also led Sunday but stumbled badly and lost — Spieth played exquisitely steady golf. No one got closer than three shots of his lead, and he never extended it beyond six. He shot 35 on each side, with three birdies and two bogeys on both.
“Jordan didn’t really open the door,” Rose said, “and I didn’t expect him to.”
Soft conditions and accessible pin placements made the course susceptible to scoring on Sunday, but the golfers who made sustained runs, such as McIlroy (66), Hideki Matsuyama (66), Ian Poulter (67) and Hunter Mahan (67), started the day too far back, and the handful who started within theoretical striking distance — such as Rose and Mickelson — failed to summon the type of epic charges it would have taken to catch Spieth.
“I played a solid round, but I needed to play an exceptional round,” said Mickelson, who played in the pairing ahead of Spieth. “And Jordan didn’t help any of us trying to catch him.”
There will be no need to “Jordan-proof” Augusta National, in the same way it was once “Tiger-proofed.” Spieth didn’t overpower the course, as Woods did early in his career, as much as he dismembered it surgically. There were no outrageous hole-outs or answered prayers. Instead, the lingering images of Spieth from this week will be of him lacing drives down the middle of fairways, dropping iron shots to the optimum quadrants of greens and pouring in midrange putt after midrange putt.
“He has no weaknesses,” Mickelson said. “He doesn’t overpower the golf course, but he plays the course strategically well. He plays all the shots properly. And he has that ability to focus and see things clear when the pressure is on and perform at his best when the pressure is on. That’s something that you really can’t teach.”
This week was as much a mental tour de force as a physical one, as Spieth slept — not always well — on a lead for three straight nights. The names chasing him — Mickelson, Woods, McIlroy and others — were the stuff of nightmares.
But McIlroy and Woods, with a massive gallery following and urging them on, managed only 11 pars and a bogey combined over their first six holes, until McIlroy caught fire and birdied six of the last 12 holes.
Woods, though, was wildly erratic, hitting only two fairways all day — and none until the par-5 13th — and shot 73 to finish in a tie for 17th, the final round marring only slightly an otherwise positive week for Woods, who was coming off a long layoff.
The last point at which anyone had a legitimate chance to catch Spieth came at the par-3 16th hole, where Spieth, after missing the green left and long, left himself eight feet for par, while Rose, after a solid 7-iron, had a 15-footer for birdie. If Rose made his putt and Spieth missed his, the lead would have been just two with two holes to play.
“That’s where I felt it could get out of hand,” Spieth said, “if I didn’t hold it together.
But when Rose slid his putt over the left edge of the cup and Spieth nailed his critical par putt, both players knew the tournament was over.
“It really shouldn’t be that easy. You take your hat off and marvel at it,” Rose said of Spieth’s poise. “He’s going to fly the flag for golf for quite a while.”
The golf world has seen Spieth coming for a while. At 16, he turned a sponsor’s exemption at the Byron Nelson Classic into an unlikely run at contention and ultimately a tie for 16th. At 18, he led Texas to the NCAA championship. At 19, he notched his first win on the PGA Tour, and at 20 — last year — he led the Masters with 11 holes to play. Over the past month, he has put together two wins and two second-place finishes, playing in the final pairing on Sunday all four weeks.
And now, at 21 years old, he has a green jacket, a lifetime exemption into this tournament and, as the second-youngest Masters champion behind Woods in 1997, a head start on building what could be a towering legacy. The Jordan Spieth era has arrived, and by all appearances, it will be a long and impressive one.