Jordan Spieth made a charge for the ages Sunday afternoon at Augusta National Golf Club, derailed at the end by an errant tee shot that struck a tree limb on the 18th hole.
Still, what a round he played.
Spieth poured in a 33-foot birdie putt on No. 16, electrifying the patrons, sending him to 9 under for the round and into a share of the Masters lead with Patrick Reed.
Not that he noticed.
“The first time I saw the leaderboard was after I tapped in on 18. Honest to God. Didn't look once today. That was my plan going in,” he said.
Trailing his Ryder Cup partner Reed by nine shots to start the day, the 2015 champion sat on the cusp of multiple Masters records as he scorched the back nine. His closing bogey gave him 64, one shot shy of the course record held by Nick Price and Greg Norman, and he was trying to create the greatest final-round comeback in Masters history.
With several top-10 players in front of him entering the final round, his approach was simple.
“Go out and just have fun. Don't worry about the golf tournament itself, worry about playing Augusta National. I hear roars. I knew somebody was playing well.” he said. “With eight people ahead of me starting the day, to get that much help and shoot a fantastic round was nearly impossible. But I almost pulled off the impossible.”
Playing partner and good friend Justin Thomas felt goosebumps when the bomb fell at 16 but said the rest of the round didn’t require anything “crazy.”
“Sundays out here are kind of set up for it,” he said. “You still have to play some unbelievable golf but you can do it especially on a day like today with the soft greens. He had total control of his ball off the tee and with his irons. He was just doing everything he should. He was hitting good iron shots and taking advantage of the par-5s and the easy holes. It was fun to watch.”
Spieth shot 31 on the front nine. The day started feeling special when he conquered his nemesis, the par-3 12th, which cost him the title in 2016. Spieth threw both arms overhead when his tee shot landed safely in the back fringe and had real reason to celebrate after he buried the 27-foot birdie putt.
His tee shot crept into the pine straw on 13, but Spieth’s caddie Michael Greller helped convince his boss to use a hybrid rather than a 4-iron for the 230-yard shot over the tributary of Rae’s Creek. Spieth’s ball landed a yard or two on the front of the green and within 12 feet of the cup, setting up another birdie.
Moments like these don’t surprise Thomas, who played the last three holes 4-over to shoot 73 and tie for 17th. He fought a balky putter most of the week and, because of it, didn’t have much hope for making his own final-round run entering the day.
“There’s a reason he’s Jordan Spieth and he’s done all the great things he's done. It’s not like he was the 100th ranked player in the world doing it,” he said. “It was a three-time major champion, someone who has won here before. Someone who is a helluva player, has done some great things and will do more great things.”