Golf is a cruel sport. It can humble even the game's most elite players in the space of a few short minutes and just three holes in the case of two-time major champion Jordan Spieth on Sunday.
Spieth had led the Masters since day one and looked set to defend the title he won last year as held a five-shot lead going into the back nine at Augusta National. What ensued was both enthralling and painful viewing.
Errant play from tee to green on holes 10 and 11 led to successive bogeys yet he still held a three-shot swing over Danny Willett heading to the iconic par three 12th. Spite was visibly rattled as he struggled over his club choice and then proceeded to attack the dangerous front-right pin position with nine iron in hand.
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The ball was short right all the way and duly hit the slope running down into Rae's Creek. This was a very poor play from the defending champion who had done the same thing two years previously on Sunday whilst challenging for the lead.
Spieth himself has since said that he should have done the smart thing, realise he was leading still and played for the middle of the green - ensuring he wouldn't make worse than four and thus maintaining his lead. What was even worse was the rushed and poorly calculated manner in which he approached and took his third shot from the drop zone.
Firstly, he chose a horrible distance of around 50 yards which allowed neither for a full swing nor the ability to control the ball with much spin. Then, he again chose to go at the flag instead of taking his medicine and ensuring his ball stayed dry and on the green.
Spieth hit his third so flat it barely reached the hazard and suddenly he faced a fifth shot which he again rushed and plonked in the back bunker, leaving him a tough up and down. He made seven and was suddenly trailing Willett by three strokes. Looking emotionally crushed and a beaten man, he somehow managed to pick up a birdie on the par fives at 13 and 15 but more wayward wood and iron play left him no chance walking up the 18th as the leader.
This is a tough lesson for an exceptional young man who hasn't really had to face much adversity in his career as yet. It was a meltdown for the ages that highlighted his youth and inexperience in such situations and despite his mature head, the pressure clearly got to him. Credit must be given for the way he handled himself in defeat, a classy interview and polite exchanges with the man who beat him on the day showed everyone that Jordan Spieth is a superb young man as well as a golfer.
The collapse is hard to explain as it cannot be put down to first-time major chasing nerves, he already holds two of them, and he seemed in good control of his game throughout the front nine. Possibly a change in game plan to a more conservative approach with the knowledge that he was comfortably leading may have caused some cautious swings but only he will ever know.
What happens the next time he holds a lead in a major will really show what he is made of, and he will be back at the top of one of those leaderboards soon - he is too good not to be. Whether he bites down and wins or bad memories and nervous thoughts take over will be of interest to all fans of golf.
One thing was clear on that 12th hole, Jordan can get rattled and look helpless at times. When he needed a smart play he did the opposite thing and played himself into trouble. He could barely watch as his ball plopped into the water for the second time and he looked like he could have an on-course breakdown.
He will only learn from this though and if you consider how poorly he hit the ball tee to green all week it is quite remarkable that he held any lead at all. That's how good he is on and around the greens, his putting gets him out of trouble countless times and he is almost flawless from inside 15 feet. He just doesn't look like missing on the greens and it is a scary thought for his counterparts that his best golf is certainly yet to come.
Danny Willett certainly played excellent golf on Sunday and nothing should be taken away from him but everyone who watched knows that Jordan threw that title away. It was his to lose and a few mindless shots did exactly that for him, leaving a sorry sight for all Spieth fans, a hurting young man standing on the 18th left to ponder what had just happened and desperately wanting it to all end as quickly as possible.
He showed everyone his vulnerability and emotions on the course and that will only gain him more support and make that next major win all the more special. Next stop, Oakmont and the US Open to defend his title and would you really bet against him?
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