For 12 months, Jordan Spieth has played questions relating to The Masters with such a straight bat that one had cause to wonder whether he was a professional in the correct sport. That stance changed on the eve of the WGC Match Play, with Spieth admitting he will be delighted when the 2017 version at Augusta National is over – if only because it means people will stop talking about his 2016 nightmare.
Spieth was firmly on course for back-to-back Masters titles a year ago before an extraordinary Sunday meltdown when he took seven at the par three 12th. With the first major of the season now little more than a fortnight away, the 23-year-old has broken away from what had become his standard approach by conceding it comes with element of external pressure he can do without.
“No matter what happens at this year’s Masters, whether I can grab the jacket back or I miss the cut or I finish 30th, it will be nice having this Masters go by,” said Spieth. “The Masters lives on for a year. It brings a non-golf audience into golf. And it will be nice once this year’s finished, from my point of view, to be brutally honest with you.
“It would be best if I could reclaim the jacket. But I believe that I’ll be back up there sooner or later [because of] the way that I play the golf course, the success I’ve had and the comfort level I have there. Whether it happens this year or not, but it will just be nice [when it’s over] because that tournament, it’s a 365 day thing. There’s no other Masters.
“We won in Colonial three starts later. So as far as affecting me on course when I’m in a tournament, I think that answer is clear, it doesn’t do that. But as far as just having all the questions be done, I’m pretty sure they will be.”
In what might be interpreted as an attempt to play mind games with a rival, Rory McIlroy intriguingly cast doubt on whether Spieth will ever dismiss the ghosts of 2016. McIlroy knows this scene better than most; he had his own late Sunday collapse in 2011.
“It’s not as if it’s going to be the last year he gets questions about it,” said the world No2. “That might be the way he’s approaching it, the mentality of ‘I just can’t wait for this to be over so all the questions are.’ But if he doesn’t banish those demons or win this year, the questions will always still be there.
“I still get questioned about the back nine at Augusta in 2011. It’s just something you have to deal with. It’s something that happened. It’s not going to go away. It’s there and it always will be.
“I sympathise with him. The guy had a chance to win the Green Jacket and didn’t. But he can console himself by opening up his wardrobe and seeing one hanging there. It’s a little bit different to me in that respect. No matter what happens this year, those questions will still be there and linger a little bit.
“In 2012, I couldn’t wait for the Masters to start. I couldn’t wait for it to start because I wanted redemption and I wanted a chance to prove myself again. So that was a little bit of a different mindset. Everyone is different, I guess.
“Jordan still has an amazing record at Augusta. He’s played three times, he hasn’t finished outside the top two. Once he plays that 12th hole, once he gets it over and done with on Thursday, he’ll forget about it and most other people will, and he’ll go on. I’m sure he’ll have a great chance to win again this year.”
The Match Play at Austin Country Club represents McIlroy’s last start before the Masters, with Spieth to also play in next week’s Houston Open. The group stage format here before 16 players move forward to knockout means an unorthodox Wednesday start. The most formidable section will see four major champions compete against each other; Dustin Johnson, Martin Kaymer, Jimmy Walker and Webb Simpson.