When the 81st edition of the Masters Tournament gets underway on April 6th, nobody will be more anxious to get back to Augusta than the 2015 champion Jordan Spieth who made the 2016 contest one of those tournaments best known for who lost than who won.
At the end of the third round in 2016, Spieth had emerged as the first golfer in Masters history to have the outright lead in seven consecutive rounds. He expanded that lead over the front nine on the final day and stood on the 10th tee with a 5 shot lead, making back-to-back victories an almost foregone conclusion. Almost. He made bogey at 10 and again at 11. Then, disaster struck. He caught his tee shot fat on the par-3 12th and dumped it into Rae’s Creek. He dropped another ball, then badly chunked that into the water, too. His third attempt, and his fifth stroke with penalties, was over the green into a bunker from which he got up-and-down for a quadruple bogey 7. Spieth had dropped from 7-under to 1-under over the 10th through 12th holes and Englishman Danny Willett went on to win the Green Jacket.
Meltdowns on the back nine at Augusta are nothing new. In 2011, it was Rory McIlroy who took a four-shot lead to the 10th tee with hopes of becoming the youngest-ever winner of the Green Jacket. Those hopes were dashed when he snap-hooked his drive on the 10th, making a triple bogey, followed by a four-putt at 12 and a rinsing of his ball in Rae’s Creek at 13. If it’s any consolidation, two months later McIlroy lapped the field at the U.S. Open to win his first major, but he’s still looking to don his first Green Jacket.
Greg Norman was another marquee player to fumble at the Masters and on no less than three separate occasions. In 1986, he made a Sunday charge, stringing together six birdies to tie the lead heading to the final hole. But it was not to be. He pushed his second shot from the fairway on 18 into the gallery, finishing the hole with a bogey and a second place finish. The following year, he squandered a Sunday lead and lost in a sudden death playoff in heartbreaking fashion when Augusta native Larry Mize chipped-in on the second playoff hole. And again in 1996, after leading for each of the first three rounds, Norman lost a six shot lead by the 11th hole in the final round, leaving the Green Jacket for Nick Faldo.
But the saddest of all Sunday finishes in Masters history was probably that of the great Argentine player Roberto De Vicenzo who carded a final round 65 in the 1968 tournament, good enough for a playoff spot – until it wasn’t. Having signed his scorecard for a par on the 17th when he had actually birdied the hole, his 65 under the Rules of Golf became a 66 and he was out of a playoff and into 2nd place. Shattered, a heartbroken De Vicenzo famously pronounced in his broken English, “what a stupid I am.”
There are very few things in golf that compare to the back nine at the Masters on a Sunday afternoon.