There’s only one thing more wondrous than Jordan Spieth having led the Masters alone for 7.61 rounds – and that’s the way it ended.
For something seemingly so bulletproof, the explosion that brought that Augusta National record to a shuddering halt was so grand, so dramatic and so rapid that nobody could have foreseen it.
Spieth, who’d begun today’s final round at -3 and one clear, was nothing short of imperious in firing four consecutive birdies to close the front nine to charge to seven under – a five-stroke buffer over a field seemingly playing for second place.
Two slightly defensive bogeys on the 10th and 11th holes still gave no warning of what lay ahead.
When a slightly fat 9-iron off the infamous 12th tee found the water, there was cause for some mild alarm.
But by the time he chunked his third shot barely into Rae’s Creek from 62m, though, it had reached the stage of total and chaotic panic.
“It seems like we’re collapsing,” Spieth later said he told his caddie and confidante Michael Greller.
That might be the greatest understatement in recent Masters history.
His fifth went into the back bunker and only a great trap shot saved a quadruple-bogey seven on a hole measuring just over 140m.
It was the first “quad” of his professional career – and the timing wouldn’t have been wished by the most venomous sadist.
As eventual champ Danny Willett birdied 14 ahead, Spieth had gone from five up to two behind in 35 bewildering minutes.
Collapses litter the rich Masters’ folklore, but not even Rory’s famous snap hook into the cabins in 2011 was this shocking. Greg Norman’s 1996 implosion was like painful-to-watch treacle compared to this.
“It’s tough, it’s really tough,” Spieth said.
“It’s just a lack of discipline … coming off two bogeys instead of recognising I’m still leading the Masters by a couple of shots.
“Four birdies in a row to end the front nine and I knew that even par (from that point) was going to be good by at least a shot.
“But sometimes that makes it hard – you go away from the game plan you were using on the front nine and you just play a little conservative.
“Then you put a weak swing on it three holes in a row and all of a sudden I’m not leading any more.”
As is his wont, Spieth regathered himself very quickly and made birdies on the 13th and 15th to give himself an outside chance of catching Willett, now in the clubhouse at five under after a flawless 67.
But when a short birdie try on the 16th stayed out, his fate was effectively sealed.
It’s hard to fathom that Spieth, at just 22 and in just his third Masters outing, could be absolutely floored by a record that reads 2-1-2.
But this was so cataclysmic that the young Texan, so eloquent and polite even in obvious pain after his round, found the thought of pride in another runner-up finish too galling to contemplate when asked.
“I’m pretty sure I’ll be disappointed with that one,” Spieth said.
“We have the confidence we can close, I have no doubt about that ability.
“It was really a very tough 30 minutes for me that hopefully I never experience again.
“This one will hurt. It will take a while.”
Willett, whose wife Nicole was due to give birth to their first son Zachariah today and was only certain to play when he arrived 12 days early, was stunned in the opposite manner.
The lad from Sheffield, England, was the world No.1 amateur in 2008 after he won the Australian Amateur Stroke Play Championship in Adelaide.
But despite his impressive form on the European Tour – he has three wins there in the past 18 months – he had never won on American soil, his third behind Adam Scott in the WGC Cadillac Championship this year and a beaten semi-finalist in the 2015 World Match Play his previous best.
“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,” Willett said.
“You practise, that's what you do, endless hours chipping, putting, hitting shots, imagining hitting shots at certain golf courses at certain times.
“And fortunately enough today, I've been able to relive some of them dreams and some of them practice sessions.”
Willett didn’t realise the drama unfolding behind him until he saw a leaderboard walking off the 15th green.
“I actually heard everyone … grunting and moaning or whatever they do to the scoreboard when the scores go up.
“He (Spieth) obviously had a terrible run, 10, 11, 12, which basically put it right back in anyone's hands. And fortunately enough, I was able to seize the opportunities and knock it in close on 16.”
Willett said Spieth, who shared second place with the Englishman’s good mate Lee Westwood, was all class in handing over the green jacket during the on-green ceremony.
“He shook my hand like the true gent he (is),” Willett said of Spieth.
“He said, `Really well played, awesome play today’.
“He's a class act to be able to hold face and stuff as he did, obviously hurting like I imagine he would be, (and it) just shows the character of the guy that you're going to have up and around the world No.1 spot for the next many, many years.
“Fortunately enough, I'm going to be able to be in that category and playing alongside him.”