AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Like John Travolta's character in “Saturday Night Fever,” Jordan Spieth strutted down the Augusta National practice range, one confident stride after the next.
While onlookers applauded, Spieth high-fived Sean Foley, the swing coach for Justin Rose.
After reaching the practice green, Spieth bantered with playing partner Bubba Watson. He appeared completely in his element, a 20-year-old ready to prove that experience matters as much as the color of your shirt.
“We felt as relaxed as we possibly could,” said Michael Greller, Spieth's caddie, “given that it was a Sunday at the Masters.”
Spieth got off to what he called “a dream start” -- three under par through seven holes. He led Watson by two shots, seemingly on his way to becoming the youngest Masters champion in history and the first rookie to win a green jacket since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.
But trouble lurked. Watson seized a two-shot lead in a span of two holes, and he cruised home for the victory at eight under par. Spieth tied for second at five under.
“It stings right now,” Spieth said. “I had it in my hands.”
This will be a Masters remembered for Spieth's surge and Watson's triumph. But also for a series of “no's”: no Tiger, no weekend Phil, no illegal drops, no slow-play penalties, no Sunday drama, no first-time winner, no history made.
Fred Couples would have become the Masters' oldest winner; Spieth would have been its youngest.
The turning point for Spieth came on the par-5 eighth hole. From well right of the green, he pitched and yelled, “Sit!”
But rather than go long, his ball took one hop and stopped 25 feet from the hole.
“I was baffled,” Spieth said.
If you think tournament-level golf does not require brainpower, consider all that Spieth and Greller took into account before choosing a target: 1) that part of the green, site of the Saturday pin, was firm; 2) at Augusta National, they mow into the grain, which removes spin from the ball when hit from the rough, which makes it release to the hole. Except …
They got fooled.
“Maybe (a lack of) course knowledge finally caught up to us,” Greller said.
Spieth three-putted. The air came out.
Greller reminded Spieth to “stay present” -- their mantra.
But Spieth bogeyed No. 9 from the fairway when his five-foot putt burned the edge.
And his downfall came on the par-three No. 12, which is equally gorgeous and mystifying.
He chose a nine-iron, which typically carries 143 yards. That's the distance he needed to fly the front bunker. But as soon as Spieth made contact, he said, “Go! Go!”
His ball landed on the front of the green, well right of the bunker, and spun back into Rae's Creek.
“There was no wind at all,” Spieth said. “It was just dead. … That was tough, tough to swallow.”
Down the stretch, Spieth showed his frustration. His hand came off the driver after swings, he closed his eyes and rocked his head back, he swung his putter in frustration.
Pat Goss, the Northwestern golf coach and Luke Donald's short-game instructor, tweeted: “Watching Spieth's reactions & body language is a bit like watching my team's. … oh wait, he's the same age.”
Spieth, a native Texan, cannot legally drink until July 27. And sometimes on the golf course, that shows.
“I love it,” Greller said. “That's who he is. I was talking to (legendary caddie) Carl Jackson earlier this week, and he said, ‘I love that about Jordan: He has moxie.’ ”Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times