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Danny Willett takes advantage of unlikely Spieth blunder

One happy Danny Willett (Photo: Getty Images )
Just when we thought we had seen it all, Augusta National decided to provide yet another slant on Masters Sunday when the almost un-backable favourite to win when leading by five with nine holes to play (Jordan Spieth) found a way to lose.

28 year old Englishman Danny Willett is the 2016 Masters Champions and deservedly so but whether this event is remembered as Willet’s win or Spieth’s loss in the years ahead is an interesting question in itself.

Bogeys at the 10th and 11th by Spieth and then an almost unbelievable quadruple bogey at the 12th by the defending champion after twice finding the water on arguably golf’s toughest par three would change the outcome of the tournament.

The final nine holes on Masters Sunday should be renamed either Cadbury’s or Roses as there is little doubt they are like a box of chocolates - you just never know what you are going to get.

Willett was there to take advantage of the self-implosion by Spieth with birdies at the 13th, 14th and 16th holes and although Spieth staged a gusty fightback with birdies at the 13th and 14th he was unable to repair the damage he had done.  

Willett won by three over Spieth and Lee Westwood while Dustin Johnson, J.B. Holmes and Paul Casey shared 4th place another shot back.

Willett to a large extent snuck into this week’s proceedings under the radar, not because he wasn’t a player good enough for consideration as a potential winner but because he and his wife had celebrated the arrival of his first child (a son) just a week or so ago and in arriving later into Augusta and distracted as he might well have been there was reason to believe he might have difficulty performing well.

Willett, though, saw it differently.“I mean, preparation‑wise was not poor but it wasn't as much as I would have liked to have done coming into a major championship, he said in his winner’s press conference. “I didn't obviously do that great at the Match Play and flew straight home and then had Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday just doing nothing, helping Nic, make sure she's all right. 

“Obviously she had an operation to deliver Zach, so I was just at home making sure she was all right, changing nappies, making bottles, doing everything normal that a dad with a new son does, making sure that everything at home was fine so that I could come here with a clear mind, knowing that I had done enough back home and Nic was going to be all right this week."

This was Willett’s second Masters appearance after an acceptable 38th on debut in 2015. His win in Dubai earlier in the year and his 3rd place behind Adam Scott at Doral five weeks ago suggested that his game was in good enough shape but the uncertainty during his preparation as to when his child might arrive must have been unsettling to some extent.

As if buoyed by the early delivery he arrived at Augusta National as one of the last competitors to do so and understandably, after his victory, he was still struggling to come to terms with it all, especially given the whirlwind nature of the previous three hours or so.

“It's just crazy, just surreal,” said the champion. “You know, words can't really describe the things and the emotions.  You're so much involved in what you're doing when you're on the golf course and, like you said, you do something special, and it still doesn't sink in quite what you've achieved.“I've won a couple of golf tournaments around the world, but this is ‑‑ this is just a different league.  It's a major. It's the Masters!”

While Willett is on clearly on cloud nine at present, he outlined the rollercoaster that is professional golf and the sacrifices he and his wife have made as he climbed the golfing world.

“Over the last five years since I've met Nic, she's gone through a lot of up‑and‑downs. When I first met Nic, I was injured badly with my back and I was taking a lot of time off, and she thought it was all rosy me being at home at six months a year.

“She's been through thick and thin, long practice days, being grumpy when things aren't going your way. Traveling the world, as beautiful as it is, it's tough living out of a suitcase and going from hotel to hotel and never really having a proper base.

“So yeah, as brilliant as this game is and as much as the rewards it gives you, any single person pro can tell you there's a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes, and it's the things that regular don't really see, they don't see the work you put in, not just on the golf course but off it with certain aspects, gym, nutrition, all these things. And obviously to balance your life of actually doing normal things.

Willett will move to number nine in the world and can now considered amongst the game’s elite.

Hindsight is a great thing in any situation but Spieth will likely be now second guessing the decision he took to drop the ball back some 80 yards after finding the water at the 12th. From there he nearly lay the sod over his pitch and found the water again, then the bunker with his 5th.

He managed to get up and down from there but the quadruple bogey is something that could well scar him for some time to come.  

He could do well to look at the adventures of Rory McIlroy five years ago when the Northern Irishman blew a four shot Masters lead with nine holes to play and two months later won the US Open by eight shots.

The pain Jordan is now feeling will be eased somewhat by a quick bounce-back and there would be few to back against it happening at Oakmont in June.

To his absolute credit he kept grinding to the finish and it took until he bogeyed the 17th that his challenge was extinguished.

“Yeah, it's a tough one,” said Spieth. “I knew the lead was 5 with nine holes to play. And I knew that those two bogeys weren't going to hurt me. But I didn't take that extra deep breath and really focus on my line on 12. Instead I went up and I just put a quick swing on it.

“I learned what I learned in 2014. And it's just stay committed. 12 is a 150‑yard shot and I feel I can bleed it next to the hole, and it's a stock 9‑iron for me. But that hole for whatever reason just has people's number. Stay committed behind the bunker. That's about‑‑ it was really one swing. 10 and 11 you can take bogeys there. I was still 2‑under for the tournament with a couple of par‑5s left.

“My goal for the day was 4‑under. So we were still right on pace. It just didn't take that extra deep breath. And Michael said, hit it right here, hit it right here. And I remember getting over the ball thinking I'm going to go ahead and hit a little cut to the hole and that's what I did in 2014 and it cost me the tournament then, too.

“As for the drop I wasn't exactly sure what to do there. It went in so far to the right that if I could go behind the drop zone I could have gotten to a number that I liked, similar to 2014, where I ended up saving bogey. Instead, I didn't want to drop it at 65 yards off the downslope into that green.

"That's just a number where you can't get the full spin.“I wanted to get it to a number where I could have it end up where it landed. It would take a skip and come back. So I wanted 80 yards. So I tried to get 80 yards. I'm not really sure what happened on the next shot. I just hit it fat."

Spieth had to agonize through the jacket ceremony and while gracious he was clearly feeling the pain.

“As you can imagine, I can't think of anybody else who may have had a tougher ceremony to experience. Obviously happy for Danny. But it was very tough given that it's so soon after the finish and it was tough but I thought that he handled it with extreme class. And I felt that I stood up there and smiled like I should, and appreciated everybody who makes this great tournament possible.”

Jason Day finished as the leading Australian in a share of 12th and will earn US$230,000 but that was not what he was he for.

“Today was ‑‑ pretty much the whole week I was just out of position, for the most part. Kind of disappointing week, from tee to green. On the green was great when I gave myself the opportunity I felt like I could capitalize on, but today I didn't give myself the opportunity.

It was however Day’s 11th top ten in 21 career major championships.

Adam Scott and Cameron Smith finished well back but made it to the weekend.

 

 

 

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