AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) – The most important round in Jordan Spieth’s young career began with a little perspective from his caddie.
The University of Texas golf team was playing a college match Sunday at Pasatiempo Golf Club in California. Spieth would have been in his senior year with the Longhorns if not for dropping out as a sophomore to try to make a living on the PGA Tour.
As they stood on the first tee for the final round of the Masters, Michael Greller asked him, “Aren’t you glad you’re not at Pasatiempo right now?”
Looks like leaving UT was a good career move for the 21-year-old Texan, who traded burnt orange for a green jacket.
After having a laugh about where they were, and just how they got there, Spieth birdied the first hole and was on his way to a performance that ranks among the best ever at the Masters.
He set scoring records for 36 holes (130) and 54 holes (200), and a bogey on the final hole Sunday meant he had to share the record for 72 holes (270) with Tiger Woods. He had the lowest start by a champion (64). He made more birdies (28) in one tournament than anyone in 78 previous Masters.
But the only number that really mattered to Spieth was 42 – his jacket size.
“It’s the most incredible week of my life,” Spieth said. “This is as great as it gets in our sport.”
But even as he tried to fathom all he accomplished, it was that joke on the first tee that was even more difficult to comprehend.
Spieth turned pro in late 2012 without a PGA Tour card and no idea where the road would take him. It led to victory as a 19-year-old rookie, to being selected as the youngest American to play in the Presidents Cup, to the final group at the Masters in his debut last year and losing a two-shot lead with 11 holes to play.
“It’s all run together. It all happened quickly,” Spieth said. “Sometimes it feels like a long time ago. And sometimes it feels like yesterday. All in all, it’s really cool.”
It was the disappointment of last year that ultimately carried him to a four-shot victory Sunday.
He watched Bubba Watson celebrate his second Masters title, and all the perks and celebrity that came with it. He knew that could have been him celebrating.
“So you get reminded of it all the time, because when you’re Masters champion, it’s a different legacy,” Spieth said. “And so that definitely left me hungry. And then also, having a chance to win the last couple of weeks and not pulling it off.”
He was runner-up in the Texas Open and lost in a playoff at the Houston Open before arriving to Augusta.
“So the combination of the two allowed me to keep my head down, not worry about anyone else in the field except myself and to play a golf course that is my favorite course in the world,” he said.
The par-5 eighth hole is where it all started to go wrong last year. He had a two-shot lead and made bogey to Watson’s birdie. On the ninth hole, Spieth’s shot came up a fraction short and tumbled down the front of the green and back into the fairway, leading to another bogey. Watson birdied and suddenly was two shots ahead, and Spieth didn’t have the power or the putting to catch up.
This year was different. His lead down to three shots, Spieth made a simple birdie on the eighth hole. This time, his approach on the ninth was a fraction long enough to land on the ridge and stay put. He made par, and Justin Rose had a three-putt bogey to fall five shots behind.
There was only one shaky moment after that. Spieth was four shots ahead and looking at a two-shot swing on the 16th when Rose had 15 feet for birdie and Spieth faced an 8-foot putt for par. Rose missed. Spieth made. He was on his way.
“It was probably one of the best putts he hit all day,” Rose said.
It’s tempting to declare Spieth as golf’s next big star after such a performance and the elite company he joins. In the last century, only four players have had three PGA Tour titles that included a major before turning 22 – Spieth, Woods, Tom Creavy and Gene Sarazen. He was the first wire-to-wire winner at Augusta in 39 years. He already is No. 2 in the world, and he still has work to do to reach Rory McIlroy at No. 1.
Golf is craving a rivalry, and this has all the trappings of one, especially because the world ranking has never had No. 1 and No. 2 both 25 or younger. It’s worth waiting to see if other young players emerge the rest of the year in the majors – Jason Day, perhaps, or even Hideki Matsuyama, who finished fifth on Sunday.
But Friday at Augusta, when Spieth shot 66 and built a five-shot lead, felt a lot like Friday at Congressional when McIlroy began to bury the U.S. Open field in 2011.
“He’s way more mature than I was at 21, and a hell of a golfer and a great person as well,” McIlroy said.
McIlroy was not ready to think about a rivalry, even though he stated his goal very clearly that he wants to be No. 1. This was a big step, but it was only a step.
“He’s got four majors,” Spieth said of McIlroy. “That’s something I can still only dream about.”
If history is any indication, the kid is a quick study. And he seems to be in a hurry to get where he’s going.
As for the Longhorns?
They registered a 14-shot victory at Pasatiempo on Sunday in the Western Intercollegiate. They didn’t need that Spieth guy, anyway.