Small consolation for Spieth: He still has a green jacket
AUGUSTA, GA. >> Don't feel sorry for Jordan Spieth because he had to put the green jacket on Danny Willett right after throwing away the Masters.
At least he was wearing one himself.
Spieth was in no mood for consolations, and even a month away from golf might not be enough time to find perspective.
"It was just one bad swing," Spieth said. And while his collapse went a little deeper than that, there was a large measure of truth to it. If he had hit the middle of the green with a 9-iron on the par-3 12th, there likely would have been one fewer person in Butler Cabin.
Even so, Spieth would do well to consider three other collapses on the back nine at Augusta National.
Ed Sneed in 1979 had a three-shot lead with three holes to play, bogeyed them all and lost in a playoff. Greg Norman's six-shot lead was down to two at the turn in 1996 when he made bogey on Nos. 10 and 11, and then found Rae's Creek in front of the 12th in the same manner as Spieth. He knew the safe shot was over the bunker until that evil voice in his head told him at the last second to cut it toward the right pin.
Not to be forgotten is Rory McIlroy, who started the back nine with two holes that were as damaging as Spieth's one bad swing. McIlroy took triple bogey on No. 10 and four-putted the 12th hole, dropping the same number of shots — six — as Spieth before getting to the 13th tee.
What makes those three players stand out is that none has a green jacket.
Norman has a pair of claret jugs from the British Open, but Augusta National haunted him. McIlroy lacks only the Masters to complete the career Grand Slam, and even though this was only his second try, it's starting to weigh on him.
Spieth wanted desperately to take that jacket back home to Dallas, and he nearly pulled it on. More painful than a place in golf history was how he abandoned the very traits that made him so tough in the majors — discipline, patience, smarts.
He paid a steep price.
Spieth had to settle for a silver medal instead of a green jacket. He went to Butler Cabin for ceremony, not celebration. And then he had to attend the trophy presentation on the 18th green and help Willett into the jacket a second time.
"I can't think of anybody else who may have had a tougher ceremony to experience," Spieth said.
Maybe he should check that other name on his locker upstairs in the clubhouse. On his first trip back to Augusta National since winning last year, Spieth learned that he was sharing a locker with Arnold Palmer.
The King knows what it's like to give away the green jacket — first on the course, then at the ceremony. Palmer had a one-shot lead on the 18th hole in 1961 when he went bunker-to-bunker, made double bogey and lost by one to Gary Player. As defending champion, Palmer had to help Player into the green jacket.
Palmer was so furious that when he got to his car, he slammed his shoes onto the front seat and dented an engraved silver cigarette case that co-founder Clifford Roberts had given to the players' wives. In his book, "A Golfer's Life," Palmer said he keeps that dented case on his desk in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, to this day.
"I use it to hold business and membership cards," he said. "It also holds a lot of memories and a painful reminder."
What lessons can Spieth take from this Masters?
The memories won't fade, especially when he stands on that 12th tee. Spieth is 22 and has a lifetime exemption to the Masters. He will relive that shot plenty.
Then again, even a bad experience is better than no experience at all.
Nick Faldo, who presented the green jacket to Tiger Woods in 1997, at the time thought that would be the only major Woods could win because everyone was kept outside the ropes. Woods was so massively popular that it would be a circus around him at the other majors. And it was.
Only later did Faldo realize how much that worked to Woods' advantage.
"Everyone joining him now on the weekend goes into his world," Faldo said in a 2007 interview. "That is Tiger's arena. He's there all the time."
Woods never had to deal with the scars Spieth takes from losing a major like this. Still, what's easy to overlook is that Spieth now has played in the final group in four of the last five majors. He has gone 1-1-4-2-2 in those majors. Not since Woods has anyone put together a run like that.
Plus, he still has a green jacket, even if it's not in his closet.
McIlroy learned about Spieth's implosion when he finished his final round. He knows the feeling. It's not pleasant.
"But he won it last year," McIlroy said, "so I don't feel too sorry for him."
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