AUGUSTA, Ga. – It took almost a year, but Jordan Spieth made amends with the little 12th hole at Augusta National. Then another unlikely bully stuck out its leg and tripped him on Thursday at the 81st Masters.
On a challenging day when Augusta National was at her unpredictable best, and with winds gusting as high as 40 mph, Spieth had positioned himself well with just a few holes to play. He hit the green at the par-3 12th and two-putted for par – walking off in four fewer strokes than in his last official round here – and he stood at level par as he sized up a wedge shot after laying up at the 15th hole, which played directly into a fierce wind.
Then the back-nine carnival music revved up again.
Spieth’s third shot from 98 yards to a tucked-left middle hole location at 15 pitched about a yard onto the green and started spinning back, his ball picking up steam and rolling down the back into a fronting pond. He dropped, hit a driving shot that carried over the green from 78 yards, pitched back to the front edge of the green, and three-putted from 29 feet for 9.
It was his second quadruple bogey in his last two trips to the back nine at Augusta National, usually the course’s more lenient scoring nine. He birdied 16, hitting 7-iron to 2 feet, and made a nice par-saving putt from 18 feet at the closing hole just to get to the clubhouse at 3-over 75.
Spieth’s biggest mistake at 15? He failed to recognize that it wasn’t its usual amicable self, and one year after squandering a five-shot lead on the back nine at Augusta, he paid another big price.
“You think of it as a birdie hole, obviously, being a par 5. And unfortunately I still thought of it as a birdie hole today and it really isn’t when you lay up,” Spieth said. “So I didn’t take my medicine and hit it about 15 feet right with a club that takes the spin off. Instead I was stuck in the 15‑is‑a‑birdie‑hole mentality, and it kind of bit me a little bit. I struck the shot well, I just hit the wrong club.”
Spieth chose a 58-degree wedge over one that would take more spin off. After dropping, he faced about 78 yards, and this time made sure he wasn’t short. Instead, Spieth hit the shot long, and from there, he said, “it’s very difficult.”
Fellow competitor Matt Fitzpatrick also had laid up in two, and he made sure to take a 54-degree wedge that took off spin, his ball bouncing once and stopping, leaving him a 6-footer for birdie, which he made.
“I was sort of surprised that he hit 58 (degrees) with it being a bit soft there,” Fitzpatrick said. “So it was easy to, obviously, spin it back and end up in the water.”
Less than an hour earlier, Spieth had stepped to the tee on the par-3 12th hole, revisiting the very spot where he washed away his chances of earning a second green jacket last April. Amen Corner, where Nos. 11, 12 and 13 intersect, was absolutely jammed with people craning their necks to see what sort of answer Spieth might have for the 7 that derailed him in his last competitive trip there. A year ago, he’d walked to the tee and dumped not one, but two balls into Rae’s Creek.
Sizing up the huge crowd and taking in the scene, one longtime industry observer said, “We sure do live in a morbid society.”
Thursday, Spieth didn’t hit a great shot, his ball starting right and carrying a bit long, though it did settle onto the putting surface, some 34 feet away from the cup. He’d two-putt for his par.
“I was a bit surprised at how loud the cheer was when my ball landed 35 feet away from the hole,” Spieth said, smiling slightly. “But I was relieved to see it down and on the green. And I guess maybe everyone else felt more than I did on it.”
Spieth’s first three trips to Augusta have produced finishes of T-2, Win, T-2, and understandably, he carries plenty of confidence at the place. But all of a sudden, Augusta National has tossed some adversity in his direction. A back-nine 41 a year ago was followed by a back-nine 39 on Thursday.
Some other numbers: In 12 previous rounds at Augusta, Spieth had played the 15th in 8 under. And after starting his Masters career with nine rounds at par or better, he now has played four consecutive Masters rounds over par.
Give him this: Thursday’s conditions were so brutal that a 75 certainly didn’t remove him from the championship (he’s T-41 after 18 holes). Spieth walked off the golf course hours before Charley Hoffman shot 65; he’d been expecting the leader to be only 3 or 4 under as he headed to the clubhouse. He has much work to do in the coming days.
“I’m going to probably need to play something under par tomorrow, which puts a little bit extra added bit of pressure that I wouldn’t have put on tomorrow,” he said. “Because I was thinking even par for the two days (in tough conditions) was a good score.
“And obviously now, 3 over, I feel like I need to snag something (low) tomorrow. But do it through patience and taking advantage of the par 5s.”
Something he certainly had not done on opening day of the 81st Masters.