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That's Life…Sometimes it's Sweet

April 15, 2016 by Stuart Barber

Other times it's a real bummer. That's exactly how it was on Sunday afternoon at Augusta. Sweet for, “Son of a preacher man”, Danny Willett from England, bitter, oh how bitter, for Jordan Spieth, suffering one of the most spectacular collapses seen at Augusta.

The Texan had lead the field from Thursday's opening round of 66, as though just carrying on from where he had left off in 2015. On the whole, a serene march to glory and a new place in history, one or two blips on the way just to show us he is only human. Then a testy touch when told his group was “on the clock” by European Tour head rules official John Paramour.

As Peter Alliss said “he's not spectacular like a Tiger Woods but he just keeps his head down and gets the job done” He puts one in mind in the way he plays of another Texan from a former era, “iron man” Ben Hogan.

The final round, and Spieth set off cheered on all sides as though it was a ceremonial march for the anointed one to claim his victory. No thought for the poor unfortunate Smylie Kaufman who had started the day one shot behind him, this was the time to put right the bogeys on the last two holes on Saturday. So Kaufman was the “also ran” who soon fell by the wayside to be forgotten in the dramas that befell his playing partner.

Jordan Spieth finished the front nine with four straight birdies to be out in 32 and seven under par, five shots clear of the field: it looked to be all over.

Remember the old adage “it's never over until the fat lady sings”

The bogey on the 10th seemed little more than a blip, but driving into the trees on the 11th, sounded a warning alarm. Hello what was going on, and one heard he had been concerned enough about his swing that he had phoned his coach, Cameron McCormick, on Saturday night and instructed him to get to Augusta pronto. (Spieth has since denied that particular story).

Then what was about to happen turned Amen Corner into the corner from hell. On the par three 12 th Spieth addressed his ball, then stepped away, before standing over his ball again, and perhaps a tad suddenly, swung, and almost inevitably, the ball was in the water short of the green. Regroup and drop to play his 3 rd and this was a real dunch, in the water again. Now play five over the water, this time through the green and into the bunker. It says much for Jordan Spieth that having played out perhaps 3 to 4 feet beyond the hole he sank the putt for a seven.

The rest is history and although Spieth birdied thirteen and fifteen (which in itself says much for his courage and resilience) he could only bogey seventeen and that was that. Willett had played with nerveless control since the Jordan collapse, a birdie at sixteen and then safe pars at the final two holes to give him a two shot lead over Lee Westwood and Spieth, who despite the traumas of the last nine holes still finished only one over for the round.

A great day also for English golf with five players having top-10 finishes at Augusta. Lee Westwood tied for second at 2-under 286, three shots behind Willett. Paul Casey was fourth at 1 under, Matthew Fitzpatrick was in a three-way tie for seventh for even par, and Justin Rose tied for 10th at one over.

The agony that Spieth must have felt, the total anti-climax as he holed out on the last, knowing history had been in his grasp yet cruelly snatched away from him, was not over yet. Spieth, after his meltdown, was obliged to put the Green Jacket on Willett in the Butler Cabin.

Personally I found the sight of those scenes in the Butlers Cabin totally cringe-worthy, no wonder Jordan Spieth nearly lost his footing when standing up to complete the ceremony --but his eyes told it all. Being obliged to put the Green Jacket on Willett in the Butler Cabin was one of the cruellest sights in sport. As Willett recounted that he was lucky to be here at all (his son Zach should have been born that very day, but was delivered early by a caesarean operation) one could plainly sense the Augusta Chairman's true feelings beneath the veneer of Southern charm!

Thank goodness for the Open Championship where we have become used to Peter Dawson saying “The winner of the Gold medal and Champion golfer of the year is.....” and apart from a short speech from the Chairman of the Championship committee thanking the public and helpers that's it!

The day before Spieth had broken Arnold Palmer's record of holding the lead in six consecutive Masters Rounds and he was trying to become the first player to win wire-to-wire in back-to-back Masters. It took Jack Nicklaus until he was 25 to don his second Green Jacket. Spieth was trying to achieve the double three years younger. Perhaps the Gods just said enough is enough!

Although ranked tenth in the world rankings before the Masters, Willett seemed in the public perception to lag behind the top players. He just quietly went about his way and was always there or thereabouts, but not quite so often in the headlines as Spieth, Day or McIlroy.

Not anymore. Suddenly he's dramatically famous. “Who ever said golf was boring?” said Edwards, who has captained two GB&I Walker Cup teams to victory. “All the media are going crazy about this and hopefully we can have another surge, as there was for European golf in the 80s and 90s.”

“Danny had an insatiable appetite for work and for good information. I had good information and he was willing to work very hard” said Edwards.

Before turning pro he was English amateur champion in 2007 and, in the same year, represented England, played for GB&I in the Walker Cup, and for Europe in the Sir Michael Bonallack Trophy. He went on to win the 2008 Australian stroke play and Spanish amateur championships and became the world's top amateur. 

Willett turned professional in 2008 and before the Masters had 4 previous victories on the European Tour including the Dubai Desert Classic this year and now leads the way in the Race to Dubai. Willett finished third at the 2015 WGC-Cadillac Match Play, earning special temporary membership on the PGA Tour for the remainder of the 2015 season. [2] Last year at St Andrews he finished in a tie for 6th at the Open Championship, then his best finish in a major. Though he earned enough to qualify for a PGA Tour card, Willett declined to take PGA Tour membership for the 2015–16 season. [3]

Now he's the first Englishman to win at Augusta since Nick Faldo won 17 years ago, let's hope we don't have to wait another 17 years for a repeat. Maybe next year will be McIlroy's turn for Northern Ireland, or any of those players from the British Isles who put on such a great showing last week.

One could go on writing about that week almost for ever, but I'll end with one or two gems I picked up from TV, radio and social media:-

When Danny Willett disappeared into a portable loo on his way to the 16th tee having just grabbed the lead in the Masters, Sir Alex Ferguson turned to Jimmy Nesbitt and nodded knowingly. “Very wise,” Sir Alex said. “He's just taking a second out to slow it all down and collect his nerves. He's in control.” To which Nesbitt replied: “Either that, Sir Alex, or he is c———- himself.” 

Peter Alliss “White seems to be the popular colour here today, it's like a painter and decorators' convention”

Dan Jenkins –veteran US golf writer “ Colin Montgomerie says Jordan's late collapse Saturday made his competitor's dinner taste better last night. Well Monty you should know”

Source verified but anonymous – Bubba Watson drove into woods and asked a patron to stand back as he was not supposed to be there only to be told by the boy “Neither is your ball” After a deep breath Watson said “Well I've got two green jackets …. So thanks for coming”.

As Willett fought his way to victory, his older brother Peter delivered a witty and increasingly excited live commentary from his living room in Birmingham. 

The 33-year-old drama teacher started off with 312 followers on Twitter – by the time his brother was wearing the famous Masters Green Jacket this had risen to 16,000.  When Spieth started to fire shots into the water, and Willett took the lead to set up a nail-biting finish, his brother's Tweets became more outlandish.

“Spieth is lining up his putt. If I'm quick I can get a beer, go to the toilet, and paint the spare room before he hits it.” 

“If the boy does what he should, I will be able to say I've shared a bath with a Masters winner – brilliant

Speechless,” read one of his tweets. “I once punched that kid in the head for hurting my pet rat.” Westwood tweeted back: “Not hard enough.”

Finally after bowing out early from the all night celebration party his manager Chubby Chandler said “What a night what a day – but the proper fun starts now”

And so say all of us!

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