Augusta’s 15th hole is famous for Gene Sarazen’s double eagle in 1935. It will be remembered now for Jordan Spieth’s second quadruple bogey in consecutive Masters rounds after he found water again. The 2015 champion is becoming amphibian.
Spieth is developing an unusual relationship with this tournament. Last year’s Amen Corner calamity was put to bed with a businesslike par, cheered by a sympathetic crowd. But then Spieth replaced that painful memory with the 15th hole in his first round of 2017, with a nine on a par five. Two such watery mishaps in 22 holes (this year and last) point to a flaw.
His powers of recovery on the other hand are keeping his career on track. A birdie at the next, the 16th, restored his poise in the face of another mortifying experience. Ominously, though, no player has shot more than a seven on a single hole and gone on to win the Masters. Horror holes have a peculiar power to fascinate golf audiences, who can identify with the torment.
Much of the social media reaction compared Spieth’s nine to Sunday morning meltdowns in the amateur game. Spieth himself said he fell into a “15-is-a-birdie-hole mentality, and it kind of bit me a little bit.”
He admitted choosing the wrong club for his approach shot, which rolled back into the pond. His fifth shot flew over the back of the green and a poor chip preceded a three-putt from 30 feet. He finished with a three over par 75.
The Masters throws people this way and that, up and down. And all this, at the 15th, after last year’s protagonists, Spieth and Danny Willett, had swapped roles, with Willett crashing into the trees at the first, and Spieth briefly subduing his demons at the 12th, where his chance expired in Rae’s Creek a year ago.
Willett pressed on from his opening double bogey, tense and embarrassed. On the adjacent sweep of fairway, Spieth was heading down the ninth and steeling himself for the march to 12: the 155-yard Golden Bell, where the quadruple bogey seven he took 12 months ago has dogged him ever since – certainly in press conferences. No one remembers Spieth’s two subsequent birdies on that round, where he blew a five-shoot lead and ended up tying for second. They recall only the double plop of his ball in the watery grave of his title defence.
For Spieth, this whole day was about jumping through the hoop that the public and media had set for him. Repeat or redemption at 12? Swirling winds, water, and three bunkers – two in front and one behind – make this patch of Amen Corner a test at the best of times, but never more than when everyone is picking at your scars.
While Willett started double-bogey, bogey, Spieth reached the turn level par and looked comfortable heading down the 10th, where Rory McIlroy’s infamous duck hook in 2011 laid another chapter in Augusta’s history of humiliation.
At the 12th, a packed Amen Corner gallery watched earlier groups flow by and waited for Spieth’s moment of truth. The wind loosened pine cones, dropping them on unsuspecting heads. Tree fragments blew across the scene. A paper napkin even flitted across the 12th tee: a rare violation of Augusta’s studied perfection. Rubbish disappears here as if by magic.
Up ahead, Korea’s Jeunghun Wang was setting an extra little test of Spieth’s nerves: a jangler to stir the ghosts of 12 months ago. Wang struck his own tee-shot into the woods behind the green. A hiking party set off to find it, with no luck. So Wang strolled back across the Ben Hogan Bridge for another go, with Spieth forced to watch from the side of the 11th green. The patrons at Amen Corner knew their job, and rose to applaud Spieth as he stepped on to the tee, cheering and willing him on. The old master, Phil Mickelson, was coming up behind. Spieth was not looking to make a splash this time. His tee-shot soared over Rae’s Creek to the back of the green, from where he putted twice to make par.
“I was a bit surprised at how loud the cheer was when my ball landed about 35 feet away from the hole,” he said. “But I was relieved to see it down and on the green. And I guess everybody else felt it maybe more than I did. But it was nice to make a three there and then capture four at the next. And I really thought we had it going there.” Drama over, demons dead. For half an hour, at least.
The “fear” Spieth said he would strike into this Augusta field turned instead to sympathy for a player who was blamed by television pundits for wedge-shot errors at consecutive holes (14 and 15). This, on a day when Dustin Johnson’s injury propelled him to favouritism.
There is a toughness inside him that allowed him to place last year’s disappointment in the context of an amazing Masters record of tied-second, first, tied-second. Spieth put the 12th behind him nicely, but found another pond to splash in. When he puts those balls in the water, and those “quad bogeys” on his card, he must also put fresh doubts in his head.