At just past 7:20 p.m., as twilight began to fall on the pristine Georgia hills, Jordan Spieth pushed through a doorway and stepped out onto a walkway that sits behind the first fairway of Augusta National Golf Club.
He walked slowly, his face stoic and expressionless. He needed a ride back to the clubhouse, but now he had to find the right cart. He looked around for help, hesitating for moment. Finally, his agent, Jay Danzi, appeared, and they climbed into an official Augusta green cart.
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“I had it in my hands,” Spieth had said.
On Sunday afternoon, Spieth, a 20-year-old kid from Dallas, held a 2-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in the 78th Masters. The dream was there for the taking. When Spieth was a boy, growing up on the course at Brookhaven Country Club in Dallas, he would pretend to be Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, draining the final putt on the 18th green at Augusta. He was this close to history.
But now he was on the cart designated for the runner-up, waiting for a silent ride back to the clubhouse. Across the grounds, up on the putting green, Bubba Watson was slipping on his second green jacket in three years after shooting a final-round 69 and finishing at 8 under par, besting Spieth and Jonas Blixt by 3 strokes.
Two years ago, Watson won the Masters with a miraculous shot from the trees on the 10th hole, the end of a wild sudden-death playoff. On Sunday, he came from behind against a player who was attempting to become the youngest champion in Masters history.
“I feel like it's very early in my career,” Spieth said. “I'll have more chances.”
In the moments after the round, Spieth kept hearing those same words. From his caddie, Michael Greller, a former sixth-grade teacher who left his job to work full time with Spieth; and from the fans, who lined the 18th green for the final group.
No 20-year-old had ever lost a Masters like this … because no 20-year-old had ever been in this position. Yes, there will be more chances. And yet …
“It's a stinger,” Spieth said.
In the late afternoon light, Spieth had stood on the 17th fairway while reality set in. He trailed Watson by 3 strokes with two holes to play. His 2-shot lead had washed away.
Watson and Spieth started the day at 5 under before Spieth charged out front. He chipped in from a bunker at No. 4. He made putts. He stuck irons right on the pin.
“A dream start for Sunday at Augusta,” he said.
But his early birdie barrage ended, and there were 2-stroke swings at the eighth and ninth holes. Spieth made consecutive bogeys; Watson made two birdies. Spieth dunked his ball into Rae’s Creek on the par-3 12th hole at Amen Corner; Watson was overpowering the back nine with his booming drives and swashbuckling shot-making.
“Freak show,” Watson’s caddie, Ted Scott said. “I can’t describe it any other way.”
So, Spieth wrestled with the moment, realizing this wouldn’t be his day. He looked at Greller, the former elementary school teacher.
“I’ve worked my whole life for this moment,” Spieth said, his voice trailing off.
Then he stepped up and addressed his ball. He nearly holed out on the next shot.
“I feel like we executed our game plan,” Greller said. “We just got beat.”
As Greller lamented the missed opportunity, Watson was cradling his 2-year-old son Caleb. Watson became just the 17th man to win multiple green jackets, and this time, his son could be there. In 2012, during his first Masters victory, his wife, Angie, stayed behind with Caleb in Florida.
They had completed the adoption process just a week before the Masters. Caleb, just a month old then, couldn’t travel.
“When we adopted him,” Watson said, “knowing that this young lady gave us a chance to raise her son … what an amazing feeling as a parent, and then throw on the green jacket on top of it.”
All day, Watson attacked the Masters his way.
Watson, a 35-year-old native of tiny Bagdad, Fla., likes to brag that he never took a formal golf lesson or had a real coach. His mother, Molly, worked two jobs to fund his passion, and his father, a Vietnam vet, grew closer to his son through the game.
On Sunday, Watson blasted away at the par-5s with his hot-pink driver, and never once thought of laying up. Not even on the par-5 15th, when on his second shot, he had to go through an eight-foot gap in the trees and go over water in front of the green. Watson led the Masters by just 3 strokes. He was risking major disaster.
He went for it anyway — and made it.
“You know me,” Watson said, “I wanted to get it a little closer to the pin.”
“Bubba Golf,” said Scott, the longtime caddie.
Yes, this was Bubba Golf, leaving its mark at Augusta one more time. This was a former champion outdueling a 20-year-old kid making his Masters debut. This was Watson, crying on the 18th green for the second time.
“Why Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Florida?” Watson said. “Why is he winning? So I just always ask the question: ‘Why me?’ That's why I'm always going to cry, you know. I'll probably cry again tonight sometime, just thinking about it.”
After the final putt on the 18th, Watson found Spieth for a quick embrace and a few words. On the top side of the green, Spieth’s father, Shawn, rubbed his face, wiping away dry tears. A few feet away, Augusta National officials shook hands with Spieth’s mother, Christine, telling her that her son would be back.
A few feet away, Angie held Caleb, dressed in a green-and-white striped shirt, waiting for the hug they didn’t get two years ago. But on the green, in the middle of the Masters’ final scene, Watson leaned in to give Spieth a hug.
“I said, ‘He’s a great talent and you’re going to have a lot more opportunities,” Watson would recall later. “You’re only 20.”
“But you know, he (probably) doesn’t really care what I have to say at that moment.”