Jordan Spieth of the United States hits his second shot on the 11th hole in the final round of the 2014 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia.
By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Jordan Spieth has the classic look of a young golfer, a cross between Bobby Jones and Francis Ouimet. He combines the guile of a champion with the youthful nerve of a matador.
He also has another look that should define him in years to come, maybe even months.
It didn't happen Sunday for Spieth, even though it looked like it might when he got off to one of those final-round starts that looked reminiscent of the player whose mark he was trying to eclipse -- Tiger Woods.
"I got off to kind of a dream start for Sunday at Augusta," Spieth said. "I was 3 under through the first seven. If you told me that when I woke up this morning, I would have thought, you know, it would be difficult for me to not win this golf tournament."
Spieth didn't win the 78th Masters. Bubba Watson did. Watson did it by overpowering the golf course and amazing Spieth with tee shots such as the 365-yard hammer he delivered at the par-5 13th.
And he did it by trumping back-to-back bogeys by Spieth at Nos. 8 and 9 with back-to-back birdies on the same two holes. Two-shot swings are tough enough to overcome. But a four-shot swing in a two-hole sequence?
"Although there were two two-stroke swings because Bubba played them so well, I didn't feel any rush or any kind of extra tension," Spieth said. "I still felt confident going into the back nine."
Spieth didn't pull a Rory McIlroy at this point. He didn't implode on the back nine as McIlroy did in 2011 when, at age 21, he led the Masters for 63 holes, only to come apart for everyone to see.
Sure, Spieth didn't make another birdie the rest of the way. And his 9-iron tee shot at the par-3 12th ended where so many other final-round dreams have come to rest -- in Rae's Creek.
And, no, at 20, he didn't become the youngest Masters champion in history, a mantle that still belongs to Woods.
But what Spieth did in the final round was endure and battle, engage and enthrall. It didn't happen this time as the sun filtered through the Georgia pines, back-lighting Watson's run to his second green jacket in three years. But it will happen soon.
"It stings right now, and the only thing I'm thinking about is when am I getting back next year," Spieth said after finishing tied for second in his first Masters appearance, three shots behind Watson. "That's what's on my mind, because it's tough. It's tough being in this position.
"Obviously I've worked my whole life to lead Augusta on Sunday, and although I feel like it's very early in my career, and I'll have more chances, it's a stinger. And I had it in my hands and I could have gone forward with it and just didn't quite make the putts and that's what it came down to."
It would have been easy, had Spieth managed to win the Masters, to pronounce his achievement as the dawn of a new era, the passing of a torch, in American golf. But let's be clear here.
Jordan Spieth is not Tiger Woods. He doesn't have his strength, doesn't have his club-head speed, doesn't have the same awesome length at a similar age. He also didn't blow away the field as Woods did in 1997 when he posted a 12-shot victory.
But he has his guile and feistiness, and he has his ability to conjure shots from difficult situations. He also has his on-course emotion, though with a family-friendly filter.
"I feel like I'm ready to win," Spieth said. "It's just a matter of time and maybe a little bit of course knowledge.
"I'm hungry. To be honest, that was fun, but at the same time it hurts right now. Going into the week, I wanted to get into back-nine contention on Sunday and that's what happened. My game felt like it would hold up."
He had his chances.
After starting the final round tied with Watson, Spieth took the lead for the first time at the par-5 second when he layed up off the tee and wedged his third shot to 15 feet. When Watson bogeyed No. 3, his lead was two. He kept the margin at two when he holed his shot from a green-side bunker at the par-3 fourth for birdie, negating the 5-foot birdie Watson would make moments later.
Then it started to turn.
After back-to-back birdies of 2½ feet at No. 6 and 10 feet at No. 7, Spieth bogeyed the final two holes on the front -- three-putting from 30 feet at the par-5 eighth and spinning his approach off the green at No. 9.
When Watson answered those bogeys with back-to-back birdies, Spieth never recovered.
"Ultimately, I'm very happy with the week, happy with the way my game is at going forward for this year, and I've accomplished one of my goals this year, which is to get in contention in a major and see how I can do," Spieth said. "You know, hopefully going forward, I can do that again. There's still three more this year."
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