Jack Nicklaus was only twenty-three when he won his first U.S Masters in 1963. Arnold Palmer was still recognized as the best player in the world but Nicklaus had already beaten his greatest rival in the previous seasons U.S Open and his Augusta win was hardly a shock. Every player on the tour, Palmer included, knew he was the next dominant player.
Nor was anyone surprised when Severiano Ballesteros won at the same age in 1980. The Spaniard was the best in the game for the four or five years from the middle of the 1980s and he too was an incredibly important player, his greatest legacy being bringing a moribund game to life in Europe.
Tiger Woods was clearly on the way to dominating the game when he won his first Masters as a twenty-one year-old. Has any man ever played golf at the level Woods’ achieved when he was at his best?
This week, Jordan Spieth, the same age as Woods was in 1997 put on one of the more remarkable performances at Augusta eventually winning by four shots from Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose and six from Rory McIlroy who played the last forty-five holes in fifteen under par. It was hardly too little but it was too late.
Mickelson never really got close enough and the few times Rose looked like he might do more than just threaten he made a mistake or Spieth holed the putt or hit the exact shot the situation demanded.
The Spieth question is whether he can go on and be a dominant and transformative player in the fashion of Nicklaus, Ballesteros and Woods. Can he be the one of challenge McIlroy at the top of the game?
We all guess, and the interest is in the watching, but McIlroy looks to be technically superior and he certainly hits the ball further. Spieth this week was brilliant with his putter, taking only fifty putts during the opening rounds and it was the 64,66 beginning which, in retrospect, finished the hopes of all of the rest by Friday night.
The Australians, Jason Day, Adam Scott, John Senden and Geoff Ogilvy, were all decent enough but aside from Day’s five birdie run at the end of Thursday’s round they never looked like threatening. Scott was playing a good final round until he hit a nine iron into the water at the 12th and followed it up by pitching straight back into the creek. The resulting seven blighted an otherwise good round.
Ogilvy’s week was summed up at the 15th hole. After a beautiful long approach into the par five he managed to take four putts from twenty feet with the worst thing being he tried on every one of them.
It’s been nine years since he won the U.S Open and he was then one of the best short putters in the game. Now the statistics suggest he is almost the poorest on the tour and something needs to change.
Senden likewise is hardly the best putter out there and Scott has won what he has almost despite the putter.
Spieth is contrast is brilliant on the greens and he has been coached by a Dallas based Australian, Cameron McCormick, since he was twelve-years old. Maybe Senden, Scott and Ogilvy could head down there for a lesson?
Spieth is of course the defending Australian Open champion and the timing of his win could not have been better for our national championship. We all look forward to him bringing his game back and to Sydney and to those who saw his closing 63 at The Australian his play at Augusta this week will have been no surprise.
By: Mike Clayton (Golf Australia)