Many Masters Tournament champions come into their winning week on form, having either won or had high finishes in the weeks leading into the first major championship of the year.
Jordan Spieth was no exception in 2015 – he was 33-under par in his previous three tournaments, with one win and two runner-up finishes.
In recent years, Masters champions were not able to carry that kind of play over to the other side of their victory at Augusta National Golf Club. Since 2006, only two Masters champions had followed their victory with another one that season on the PGA Tour until Spieth.
Spieth, who won the Masters by four shots at age 21 to become the second-youngest champion, got only better post-Masters. He won the next major – the U.S. Open – setting up a spirited run at the Grand Slam, missing a playoff at the British Open by one shot and finishing second in the PGA Championship.
He ended the season with five victories, including the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup, the No. 1 ranking in the world (he was fourth before he won the Masters and second afterward), $22 million in earnings and every PGA Tour player of the year award given out.
His run to Augusta started when he won the Valspar Championship in March. He tied for second in his next two starts, losing in a playoff in Houston the week before the Masters.
“He was upset that we lost in Houston,” said Michael Greller, Spieth’s caddie. “It definitely made him hungrier (to win the Masters). He doesn’t play for second or top 10s. He plays to win.”
Spieth said it wasn’t just losing in Houston that drove him. So did his runner-up finish in the 2014 Masters when he led by two shots with 11 holes to play and ended up second to Bubba Watson.
“It was the combination of the two,” Spieth said. “I was already hungry from last year having already had an opportunity and watched it slip away and watched Bubba win and everything that came with Bubba being the Masters champion, and the announcements of it, going on the shows and whatever, I knew I had a chance to win that tournament. So you get reminded of it all the time because when you’re Masters champion, it’s a different legacy. And so that definitely left me hungry.”
It was fitting that Spieth’s putting at the 2015 Masters overshadowed the rest of his game since his victory came on the 20th anniversary of the last Texan to win – Ben Crenshaw, one of the greatest putters in the game’s history. In another parallel, Spieth became the first solo first-round leader to go on to win since Crenshaw did it in his first Masters victory, in 1984, and the first wire-to-wire winner since Raymond Floyd in 1976.
Spieth’s putting led to a tournament-record 28 birdies. He had 25 putts in both his first and second rounds and finished with 108 putts, third best in the field. Of the 72 holes, Spieth had 37 one-putt greens, made two putts of more than 20 feet and seven of more than 15 feet.
That kind of putting helped him tie the tournament scoring record of 18-under 270 shot by Tiger Woods in 1997. Spieth shot 64-66-70-70.
“He played well,” said Woods, a four-time Masters champion who tied for 17th place.
“I know when I won in 1997, shooting 18-under, I didn’t miss a single putt under 10 feet for the week. If you’re going to run away and hide like that, you have to make a lot of putts.”
Spieth didn’t have any of the tournament-record 47 eagles, which is probably because he ranked 44th in driving distance at 282.6 yards.
His putting helped him take the lead early in the first round and never relinquish it on the way to setting the 36- and 54-hole scoring records. He led by three after the opening 8-under-par 64 and by five after the second-round 66. He was up by four after 70 in the third round, thanks to the shot of the tournament for Spieth – a flop shot from behind the green on No. 18 to 9 feet that led to a par after he’d just double-bogeyed the 17th hole.
He won by four after his final-round 70.
In addition to his work on the greens, Spieth had an intangible that serves him well on the golf course.
“He has that ability to focus and see things clear when the pressure is on and perform at his best when the pressure is on,” said Phil Mickelson, who tied for second place after a closing 69. “That’s something that you really can’t teach. Some players are able to do it, some players aren’t, and he is.”