Coming into this year’s Masters all the attention was paid to the 30 year anniversary of Jack Nicklaus’ epic come from behind victory over Greg Norman. We heard all the stories, had Golf Network specials, listened to Jack recount it hole by hole and were primed for something special to happen this week. Lost in all of this was 20 years ago.
Guess what? We should have paid closer attention to 20 years ago than 30 years ago. 20 years ago Nick Faldo, an Englishman, came from behind on the back nine on Sunday to win his third Green Jacket. This year we witnessed an epic back nine comeback by an Englishman to win his first Green Jacket… Danny Willett.
Think about the two-week run Danny has had. Two weeks ago he and wife were anxiously awaiting their first child, the baby was due Masters’ Sunday. Willett had said no baby no Masters.
“People are very small-minded to think that a golf tournament is bigger than the birth of your first child. (Larry Brown Sports)”
You have to give this guy credit. He was giving up his chance at the most elusive Major to be a dad, good for him.
Sometimes fate steps in.
Danny’s wife, Nicole had to have a C-Section and on March 30th the two welcomed their first son into the world. The Sunday of the Masters was also Nicole’s birthday and we witnessed Danny and Nicole talking on FaceTime while he was waiting out probably the longest three holes of his life as Jordan Spieth was trying to mount a comeback after giving up the lead. And then we witnessed the hug of Danny and his caddy as he knew he couldn’t be caught and just won the Masters. Quite a good run over two weeks.
Okay, so I mentioned 20 years ago. Yes, it was 20 years ago that Sir Nick came back on Greg Norman on the back nine to win. Do you know what hole Greg Norman gave up his lead on? You guessed it the 12th. That day Nick had a par, Greg took a five. Today Danny took a par when he was at 12, that kept him at 2-under and at the time five back of Jordan Spieth. About 30 minutes later Jordan came to 12 only up two shots and took a 4-over — one that is still baffling to me. Before we could catch our breath from that Danny went on to birdie 14 and 16 while making par on 15 (a hole usually you need to birdie to make a comeback like this).
Danny Willett was up two shots and finished ahead of Jordan by three to win. 20 years ago all over again? Yes sir. Greg Norman came into the final round up five shots. How many shots up was Jordan Spieth at the turn today? Five. You see what’s happening here is the whole idea of history repeating itself. It happens all the time in sports. For heaven’s sake we just witnessed Villanova win its second almost perfect game against a top team to win a national championship.
Are these comebacks or chokes? This is where history will tell the story. I can tell you that most people look at the ’86 Masters as Jack’s comeback, while the ’96 Masters is The Shark’s giveaway. Right now, with the current images in my mind, I am calling this Spieth’s spaz.
Jordan had birdied holes six through nine, four straight birdies and was making the turn five clear. On Twitter everyone was anointing him defending champ, a friend and I were trying to figure out who puts the jacket on the winner if you are the defending champ, people started the Tiger — and more importantly Jack — comparisons. Everything was pointing to Jordan coming away with a win despite admitting he only had his “B- game” from tee to green. Then he bogeyed 10, bogeyed 11. It’s okay he has always come back from bad holes, he was bound to do it again. Just hit a good tee shot on 12 and get your par. You have two par 5s coming that you can birdie and get your shots back. Except a wayward tee shot on 12 hit the hill and rolled back into the water. And then the unthinkable.
I’m still not sure as to why Jordan didn’t go to the drop zone. He will have to answer that, not just today, but for a long time. He decided to play a 70-yard pitch over Ray’s Creek to the green. Problem here folks, he hit the shot 36 yards (rough estimate) right into the water, much like The Wayniac does when I golf with him. The gasps around Amen Corner were probably heard in Savannah, Georgia. This is why I put this on Jordan. Danny was playing well but a bogey on 12 still has Jordan tied, or at worse one behind, depending on where Danny was at this point. Jordan tied with Danny is a lot easier to handle then being three down and it probably would have changed the way both played the remaining holes.
Give credit to Danny Willett. His shot on 16 followed by the putt for birdie were big time, but I think the biggest shot for him was his drive on 17. That is not an easy hole and not being in the fairway makes it even tougher. Let’s make one thing clear here, once Danny Willett was the leader he did everything he was supposed to do to hang on to his lead. He did what Jordan was trying to do, make pars and preserve your lead. Only difference is that he was able to execute where Jordan wasn’t. I say it all the time, play to win, don’t play not to lose.
20 years from now will be the 50th anniversary of Jack’s historic win, the 40th anniversary of Nick’s comeback and the 20th of Danny Willett’s win. How will history remember Danny Willett? That’s up to him. If he never wins another Major again we will forget him and only remember him as the guy who won when Jordan gave away the Masters. Let’s be honest we all expect Jordan Spieth to win more Majors. Danny Willett? We are not as confident about. If Danny does go on to have more success we will remember this as possibly his springboard.
I will tell you one thing. 20 years from now Danny Willett will remember March 30th more than he will remember April 10th.