Spieth realizes greatness in Masters victory

AUGUSTA, Ga.— He closed the deal. Jordan Spieth came through as the best always do. Now we open the discussions. How good will this young man be?

Not that he isn’t good enough. After all, he has to be very good to win the Masters.

It was Sunday deep in the pines and tension, when legends are born, when tournaments are won. Or lost. A year ago, Spieth had his chance. That he let it slip, that the Masters was won by Bubba Watson for a second time, was not unexpected.

This time was different, because Spieth is different, wise beyond his years — 21 plus eight months. He’s the second-youngest Masters champ ever, behind Tiger Woods, and talented beyond belief.

Think of the greats who have played the Masters, played Augusta National Golf Club over the Aprils. Sarazen and Nelson, Hogan and Snead, Palmer and Nicklaus, Mickelson and Woods. Only Tiger shot as low as Spieth did in dominating this memorable Masters, an 18-under par total of 280.

That was in 1997, when Woods hit the sports world like a hurricane. Now Spieth, shooting 64-66-70-70, setting a record with 28 birdies, setting other records with his scores for 36 holes and 54 holes, jolts us once more.

“It’s a matter of generations,” Woods said. Absolutely. After Dr. J came Michael. After John Unitas came Joe Montana. And after Tiger, who came after Jack, who came after Arnie, comes Jordan Spieth.

“It’s awfully impressive,” said a man who perhaps was overlooked here, Rory McIlroy. With his titles in the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA, McIlroy himself has been awfully impressive.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to be in a similar position,” said McIlroy, 25. “It’s nice to get your major tally up and running at quite an early stage of your career. It’s great to see. Great for the game. And I’m sure he’ll win many more.”

Phil Mickelson (69) and Justin Rose (70) tied for second with 14-under par totals of 274, which would have won the previous three Masters. McIlroy, with a 66, was at 276. Woods, who hit a root when he swung on the ninth hole, popping out a bone, which he popped back in, shot 73 for 283.

Some classic names were in the chase behind Spieth. They chased in vain. Spieth was doing his own chasing.

“It was not only last year,” Spieth said of his failed attempt, “it was last week [when he lost in a playoff at Houston], the combination of the two. I was already hungry from last year, having had an opportunity and watching Bubba win and everything that came with Bubba being Masters champion, and the announcements and the shows.

“So you’re reminded of it all the time.”

What he also could be reminded of was his performance as low amateur in the 2012 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club. The experts said he was going to win on tour, win big. The Masters, his first major, is as big as it gets.

His caddie, Michael Greller, a former elementary school teacher in Washington state, kept Spieth under control as Spieth went out to control the tournament. A golfer who tries to birdie everything extant, Spieth had to be reminded not to get too aggressive or excited.

“You know, I was in pretty good control,” Spieth said about a final round of six birdies and four bogies. “And Michael kept me in there on the front nine when I made a couple bogies. But the key moment I think came down to 16. It was that late.

“Before that, I felt pretty comfortable. Still felt stress-free. But on 16, when Justin [Rose] had that birdie putt, I had a slider for a par and felt it could get out of my hands. But I tried to visualize the line. I would call that the biggest putt I’ve ever hit in my life.”

It went into the cup for par. The match was over.

“The ultimate goal,” Spieth said of a future without limits, “is to try and become the No. 1 player in the world. I don’t think I am with this.”

He’s just the Masters champion. That will do for the moment.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com. Email him at typoes@aol.com.

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