A 2016 Masters Daily Diary

    Day One of the 80th Masters belonged to (whom else?) Jordan Spieth. It was the fifth consecutive round that Spieth found himself atop the leaderboard, following his wire-to-wire win last year. Given the gusty winds that greeted players in round one this year, many called Spieth’s opening round 66 better than his 64 in last year’s calmer conditions. Spieth didn’t make a single bogey in his round and made brilliant up and downs for par at 1, 4 and 15.

    Round 1 had a surreal moment when four-time major champion Ernie Els made a 9 on the 1st hole. He took 6 putts from less than 2 ½ feet. Els wasn’t alone in his struggles. World number five Rickie Fowler opened with 80, making a triple bogey on the par 5 13th. Jason Day triple-bogeyed the par 3 16th hole. He was at 5 under par walking off the 13th green and finished even par for the day. And, former Masters champion Angel Cabrera was two under par until he came to 15. He dumped three balls in the water and walked off with a quadruple bogey 9. For the day, the par 5 15th hole ended up playing over par for the entire field.

    At the end of day one, Spieth led with 66, followed by Danny Lee and Shane Lowry with 68’s. A Ryder cup fivesome of Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Paul Casey and Soren Kjeldsen were three shots off the pace with 69’s.

    Day Two of the Masters belonged to the wind and featured the return of Rory McIlroy. The world’s top players quickly discovered that when the greens dry out and the wind blows 15-20 miles per hour, Augusta National is a formidable challenge. For a while, it looked like Jordan Spieth was immune to Mother Nature. Spieth went 26 holes before his first stumble, a double bogey on the 9th hole when his approach shot didn’t carry deep enough into the green and fell off the false front.

    Rory McIlroy put himself right back in the hunt with a one under par 71 – the best score of the day and matched by Dustin Johnson, Daniel Berger and Troy Merritt. McIlroy’s 71 put him in solo 2nd and in the last group Saturday with Spieth. Johnson and Berger’s 71s put them at even par in a tie for 8th place with a large group of players including Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Sergio Garcia, Danny Willett, Shane Lowry and amateur Bryson DeChambeau. DeChambeau played brilliantly for the first 35 holes of the tournament until a vicious hook off 18 tee led to a triple bogey.

    Frustration was the buzzword around Augusta National Friday. The course gave out bogeys like candy at a parade. A number of the biggest names missed the cut (+6) including Phil Mickelson, Charl Schwartzel, Zach Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Jason Dufner.

    Augusta said a final good-bye to former champions Tom Watson and Ian Woosnam who announced it was his final Masters in the media room following his round.

    Going into Saturday, Spieth leads at 140, followed by McIlroy at 141, Danny Lee and Scott Piercy at 142, Brandt Snedeker, Soren Kjeldsen and Hideki Matsuyama at 143. Spieth has now led the Masters for six consecutive rounds, which is a Masters record.

    Day Three of the Masters belonged to Jordan Spieth for the first 16 holes of play as he battled his swing, the wind and the pressure of leading. Spieth’s almost unworldly short game was on full display and he took a four-shot lead to the 17th tee. Two wayward drives to the right on both 17 and 18 resulted in a bogey and double bogey, cutting Spieth’s lead to one stroke and left 14 players within six shots of the lead.

    The most impressive display of the day ultimately belonged to two-time champion Bernhard Langer, the 1985 and 1993 Champion. Many pundits wrote off Watson’s near miss at age 59 at the 2009 Open Championship as a one-off event. At 58 years of age, Langer is still not close to Watson’s solo 2nd and playoff loss (he still, after all has a 4th round to play), but make no mistake – Langer’s achievement is as inspiring as it is incredible. Never one of the longest hitters in his prime, Langer was giving up more than 60 yards off the tee to playing partner Jason Day. At the par 5 2nd hole, Langer had a 3-wood second shot into the green while Day was left with just a 7-iron. Still, after three days, Langer’s ahead of world number one Day by a single shot.

    Not to take away from Langer’s play, but one of the reasons he is so close may well have to do with the three consecutive days of gusting winds that greeted players. The winds again gusted as high as 25 miles per hour and kept the fun in check for players, especially on the par 5 15th hole where eagles have turned into endangered species and even birdies have been hard to find.

    After round three, Spieth leads at 213, Smylie Kaufman is at 214, followed by Langer and Hideki Matsuyama (215), Day, Dustin Johnson and Danny Willett (216) and Lee Westwood, Brett Snedeker and Soren Kjeldsen (217). Rory McIlroy, after a disastrous third round 77, is five shots back at 218. Finally, Spieth has now led the Masters for seven consecutive rounds.

    Day Four at the Masters will go down as one of the most memorable in tournament history. After his fade at the end of Saturday’s third round, it seemed like Spieth had righted the ship in a major way. Three straight birdies resulted in a front nine 32 and Spieth walked to the 10th tee with a 5-shot lead over his closest pursuer, Danny Willett – the 12th ranked player in the world.

    Then, in less than a half hour, it unraveled on golf’s biggest, most public stage. A pushed tee shot and mid-iron on 10 and an indifferent chip led to bogey. Another pushed tee shot at 11 led to another bogey.

    As he walked to the 11th green, these two mistakes and a couple of birdies in front of him by Willett had reduced Spieth’s lead to just a shot. Perhaps it was that pressure and a realization that a conservative approach wasn’t working that led Spieth to decide to hit a cut shot into 12, instead of a draw into the fat part of the green. What we know happened is Spieth pushed another shot that ended up a few feet short and rolled back into Rae’s Creek. He took his penalty drop and then hit a shot so fat, that it almost didn’t make it to the water hazard. A couple of minutes later, Spieth walked off with a quadruple bogey 7.

    Give Spieth credit for not folding, when it would have been easy to do so. He fought back with gritty birdies at 13 and 15 before missing a must-make birdie at 16. For all intents and purposes the tournament was over. Danny Willett won’t get enough credit for his bogey-free 67 on Sunday and the first English victory at Augusta since Nick Faldo won two decades earlier.

    Also lost were the other players who failed to capitalize on their chances Sunday. From Dustin Johnson to Jason Day and Bernhard Langer, Smylie Kaufman, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and even a few others, the only player to step up and play in the solid fashion required to win a major championship was Danny Willett. It’s a long wait until the next major – the U.S. Open. It will be an even longer wait for Jordan Spieth.