With his fourth under-par round of the week, a 2-under-par 70, there was no final-round fold Sunday from fearless Jordan Spieth, only another giant step forward toward his ultimate goal of becoming the No.1 player in the world.
For now though, the 21-year-old golfing prodigy and pride of Texas became a mesmerizing Masters champion by a four-shot margin over Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose in only his second appearance at Augusta National.
The first of what many of his playing peers are predicting will be multiple major championships is now in the record books, along with Spieth’s 36- and 54-hole scoring records. His 18-under 270 tied the scoring mark set by 21-year-old Tiger Woods when he won his first Masters in 1997.
Just as Spieth had predicted the day before, mighty roars constantly reverberated through the stately Georgia pines Sunday afternoon, so many directed his way. Spieth did get to 19-under with a five-foot birdie putt at 15, but a bogey at 18 when he missed a six-footer cost him sole possession of the record.
Woods, who finished a respectable 17th, remained the youngest ever to prevail here but by only a few months. Of course that distinction was totally out of Spieth’s control, unlike his often brilliant play this memorable day.
“It’s just an honor to join those names on the trophy,” Spieth said. “I was already hungry from last year [when he tied for second] and having it slip away. You’re reminded of it all the time. With the Masters champion, it’s a different legacy.”
Spieth said the critical moment on a day, when he never led by less than three shots, came at the 170-yard 16th. His tee shot went over the green and he left his chip eight feet short. Rose, then four behind, had an 18-footer for birdie. A Spieth bogey and Rose birdie would have been a dangerous two-shot swing, with Rose only down two.
Instead, Rose missed his putt, and Spieth poured in his own sliding par putt, finally allowing him to breathe a tad easier.
“That was the biggest putt of my life,” he said.
Spieth, now No.2 in the world, began with a four-shot margin after some shaky play late in his third round, including a double bogey at 17. But birdies on two his first three holes Sunday had a calming effect. When he sank a 25-footer from just off the green at No. 10 for a birdie, he had stretched that lead to six over Rose and three-time champion Michelson, who was playing one group ahead.
That stroke of genius marked his 26th birdie of the tournament, breaking Mickelson’s record of 25 set in 2001. He also became the first wire-to-wire winner since Raymond Floyd dominated in 1976 and one of only five players to accomplish that fabulous feat as well, joining Craig Wood (1941), Arnold Palmer (1960), Jack Nicklaus (1972) and Floyd.
Rose (70) and Mickelson (69) tied for second at 14-under 274 when Rose bogeyed the final hole. Rory McIlroy, No.1 in the world, shot 66 and ended solo fourth at 12-under 276.
Mickelson was particularly gracious, saying of Spieth, “He’s just such great shotmaker, great putter, great short game. He has no weaknesses. He doesn’t overpower the golf course, but he plays the course strategically well. He plays all the shots properly. And he has that ability to focus and see things clear when the pressure is on and perform at his best.”
The closest Rose ever got to Spieth came at No. 7 when the leader missed a five-foot par putt after hitting his tee shot in the right-side pine straw. Rose made a spectacular third shot himself from hard-pan trampled grass to the right of the green that stopped six feet from the hole. His putt circled the cup and dropped in. Spieth was then at 16-under, and Rose was 13-under.
But Spieth never crumbled. His record-breaking 26th birdie, that 25-footer at the 10th, left him six ahead with eight to play, and no one had ever squandered that much of an advantage on the back nine. When he saved that critical par at 16 to maintain a four-shot margin, his last two holes were one final triumphant victory stroll. The only remaining question: could he manage a par-par finish to stay at 19-under for the record.
He didn’t. But when his tap-in bogey putt at 18 tumbled into the hole, Spieth heard one last roar, just as he had predicted.
1. Jordan Spieth
T2. Justin Rose
T2. Phil Mickelson
4. Rory McIlroy
5. Hideki Matsuyama
T6. Paul Casey
T6. Ian Poulter
T6. Dustin Johnson