For anyone to say that they have won 2 majors, been the #1 ranked golfer in the world and accumulated over $23 million USD… you’d be pretty happy with things. And you haven’t even turned 23 yet!
But for Jordan Spieth the time it took to walk from the 9th green to the 13th tee on the final round of the 2016 Masters all that seems a distant memory. After having birdied 4 straight holes and entering the final 9 holes with a 5 stroke lead, most experts (and this apparent novice) had already declared him the first back to back winner of the Master since another rather handy golfer (Tiger Woods in 2001-02). However we had failed to consider what had only seemed mythical up until now… Jordan Spieth IS human.
Anyone who has ever picked up a golf club can attest to some kind of nerves, whether it be getting off the 1st tee in front of a group of friends or trying to sink a 4 footer on the 18th to win a point for your local pennant team. Only a select few can relate to having thousands watching in person as well as millions watching around the world as you attempt to prove yourself as the best golfer on the planet. It’s the only thing that makes sense of what transpired on 10, 11 and 12.
Without going into a blow by blow account it was one of the harder things I’ve witnessed over all my years of watching professional sport. Having to swallow back to back bogies on the 10th and 11th was un-nerving as Spieth’s lead dwindled to 3. The calamity that played out on the relatively short 155 yard par 3 was almost unprecedented in Masters history.
Times have changed in regards to how to play the 12th, the old school method is to play over the front bunker while the new brigade are more aggressive in firing directly at the front right flag. If there would be any criticism regarding Spieth it may be not learning from past mistakes, having hit the same shot in 2014 which ended up in the same watery grave. But even that wasn’t the worst part of the story…
Walking to the drop zone a short wedge of app 80 yards awaiting him, Spieth could still scramble and leave the 12th with a small lead. But instead of dropping his 3rd shot safely on the green he proceeded to hit a shot most weekend golfers would produce, not getting close to clearing Rae’s Creek. The rest as they say is history as Danny Willett took what appeared to be unattainable earlier in the round and left Augusta National with his first major title.
I’m reminded of other situations where defeat was taken from the grasp of victory (one still pains me to this day as a proud Aussie), unfortunately Jordan Spieth now resides on many lists similar to this.
Greg Norman – 1996 US Masters
Norman opened his 1996 Masters campaign with a record tying 9 under 63 and held a 6 shot lead entering the final round. Australians were ready to rejoice in their first Masters victory and only had to wait for 18 inevitable holes… but that didn’t last long. Nick Faldo hardly put a step wrong in shooting a terrific 5 under 67 while Norman couldn’t do a thing right in firing a 6 over 78. Even a chance at eagle on the 15th wasn’t God willing as it would lip out and drop Norman to his knees. Norman had 4 more top 10 finishes in majors but this is the one that would (unfortunately) be his defining moment at the Masters.
Jean Van De Velde – 1999 Open Championship
3 shot lead, 1 hole left. Give any professional golfer this scenario and they would jump at it every day of the week. This is the situation Van De Velde found himself in at Carnoustie in 1999 staring down his first major title. All that stood in between him and the Claret Jug was a 487 yard par 4, doesn’t sound too hard. But he made it seem impossible.
A wild tee shot, a wilder second shot that struck a grandstand, a third shot ending up in the Barry Burn, an invisible fourth shot (drop), a fifth shot into a green side bunker and a sixth shot to within 6 feet… phew! Luckily for Van De Velde he holed the putt to make his way into a 3 way playoff, unfortunately for the Frenchman he would lose to Paul Lawrie in his best ever chance at a major. If only someone he trusted was nearby to let him know a double bogey on the 18th was enough to win… bet you Steve Williams would walk off the course before letting Tiger pull that kind of insanity!
Orlando Magic – 2003 Eastern Conference first round series
Few teams have ever overcome a 3-1 playoff deficit in the 4 major sports, arguably the most famous in NBA history was the 1981 Boston Celtics coming over the top of the Philadelphia 76ers en route to the NBA championship. But one of the more boneheaded displays was provided by the Orlando Magic in their first round series against the No 1 seed Detroit Pistons.
After scoring 145 points in the first 4 games to bring his team within 1 win of the second round, Orlando all-star Tracy McGrady stated that “it feels good to get in the second round”… oops! Detroit would come back to destroy the Magic in 3 straight games to send them packing for the summer, winning by an average of just over 20 ppg. McGrady would always be infamously remembered as one of the greatest players to never reach the second round of the playoffs.
New York Yankees – 2004 AL Championship Series
Apart from a couple of occasions in the NHL, no team in major sport playoff history had ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series. A few teams had overcome a 3-1 hole (see above) but no-one had ever seen a team win 4 straight games to win a deciding game in a 7 game series.
It was one of the most amazing series of events to unfold in MLB history. New York was only 3 outs away on Game 4 from sweeping the series and heading to the World Series. The following then occurred…
- Mariano Rivera blows a 1 run lead, Yankees lose Game 4 in the 12th inning 6-4.
- Yankees bullpen blow a 2 run lead, Yankees lose Game 5 in the 14th inning 5-4.
- 37 year old Curt Schilling pitches with a torn tendon in his right ankle, his bloody sock now resides in the Baseball Hall of Fame. His 7 inning gem (4H, 4K, ER) set up a 4-2 win and tied the series at 3-3.
Game 7 was a rout behind 3 home runs, 10-3 being the final. Boston then swept the St Louis Cardinal to secure their first World Series since 1918. There had been a lifetime of bad luck since their last World Series (maybe even 2 lifetimes)… who knew that setting MLB history would break their 86 year drought?!?
Here’s hoping that it takes someone a VERY long time to join this list.