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Golf’s New Master

Jordan Spieth etched his name firmly into the annals of Augusta lore in the first two rounds at The Masters.

His opening round of 8-under par, 64, was the second lowest score in Masters history. When he followed that up with a 6-under par, 66 in Friday’s second round for a two day total of 14-under par, that became the lowest opening two-round score in Major Championship history.

Spieth’s ascension to the pinnacle of professional golf has been a two year climb that has had all the hallmarks of an unstoppable summit. His apprenticeship on the game’s biggest stages have included a 3-shot lead midway through the final round of last year’s Masters before wilting slightly and finishing as the runner-up to Bubba Watson. A month later, Spieth would lead the Players’ Championship in the final round before losing to Martin Kaymer.

Spieth has used all these experiences as rungs in the learning ladder. At the end of 2014, Spieth gave a virtuoso performance at the Australian Open when he closed with a final round 63 at Royal Melbourne. Spieth was the only player to break 70 on that day. As an ensemble, he would he would ricochet that up with an equally dominant, 10-stroke victory margin over Henrik Stenson, in the star studded Tiger Challenge, the following week.

In his last three starts on the PGA Tour, the 21 year old Spieth has recorded a win at the Valspar Championship and then consecutive runner-up finishes at the Valero Texas Open and the Shell Houston Open.

As the third round began, Spieth held a 5-shot advantage over Charley Hoffman, but there are reasons that the third round of an event is known as “moving day”, and this is Augusta where things can change more quickly than at any other venue in the world. In 2015, it seemed that all of the best players would make Saturday moves.

Halfway through Friday’s second round, World #1, Rory McIlroy, was one shot over the cut-line at 3-over par for the tournament before surging to a 5-under par, 31 on his back 9 to make the cut. McIlroy’s surge would continue in the third round, as he stood 6-under for the day before two late bogies saw him finish with a 4-under par, 68. The winner of the last two Major Championships, McIlroy’s chances to complete a career Grand Slam were now a long shot at best.

Tiger Woods had not played in an event in almost two months since his dismal performances in Phoenix where he missed the cut and San Diego where he withdrew in the second round. The short game demons that haunted Woods earlier in the year appeared to be exorcised as he would make one stunning recovery after another in his opening round to salvage a 1-over par, 73. Woods improved to a 3-under par, 69 in the second round before making his move on Saturday with a 4-under par, 68 tying him with McIlroy at 6-under, but a distant 10 shots behind Spieth.

2013 U.S. Open Champion, Justin Rose, once again showed tremendous resilience after a shaky start. Starting his day at 7-under for the tournament, Rose made two early bogeys before playing his final 11 holes in 7-under par to be 12-under and paired with Spieth in Sunday’s final twosome.

3-time Masters winner, Phil Mickelson, steadily improved each day after opening with a 2-under par, 70 and 4-under, 68 on Friday. A scintillating, 5-under par, 67 on Saturday which tied the low score of the day, moved “Lefty” to 11-under par and within striking distance of Spieth.

But despite all the firepower being thrown Spieth’s way, the unflappable Texan managed to stay his course. After making a birdie on the par-3 16th, Spieth’s lead had grown to 7 shots. It was then that we were reminded just how quickly things can change as Spieth botched the 17th hole, carding a careless double bogey while Rose was birdieing the 18th, reducing the lead to 4. 10 minutes/three shots=HowQuicklyItCanChangeAtAugusta

Spieth made a wonderful save on his last hole to finish the third round with a 2-under par, 70, 4 shots ahead of Rose. Mickelson was a further shot back while Hoffman, who had quietly charted an impressive, 1-under, 71 to be at 10-under, 6 behind.

Spieth’s 3-day tally of 16-under par was another benchmark bettering the previous best 3-day mark set by Tiger Woods’ in 1997, by one.

The leaderboard at the end of play on Saturday was a gathering of all of the greatest players in the world and would set the stage for a Sunday to remember.

And it was. As Sunday’s round began, Rose would make two opening birdies, but Spieth made one of his own so the lead was 3. The opportunities for Spieth to stumble were frequent on the opening 9, but Spieth had an answer for every challenge. The lead would see-saw from 3 to 4 shots three different times, but every time it became 3, Spieth responded with a birdie.

Woods re-announced his return to the game with a hard fought, 1-over par, 73 on Sunday that left him in a tie for 17th but relevant once again in professional golf. McIlroy closed with the best round on Sunday with a sublime 6-under par, 66 which would see him finish in fourth place at 12-under par. Mickelson’s final round of 69 left him at 14-under par for the week and ultimately tied with Rose for second place.

Spieth had increased his lead to 6 strokes after a superb birdie-3 on the par 4 10th, but a bogey on the par-3 12th gave his pursuers hope. That hope would be extinguished as the steely Texan made one clutch putt after another en route to birdie-4’s on both par-5, 13th and 15th holes, and a brilliant save for par, on the par-3, 16th.

That par gave Spieth the opportunity to create even more history than he had already crafted. He teed off on the 72nd hole at 19-under par for the week, which would set the all-time scoring record at Augusta. A closing bogey would mean that Spieth would accompany Woods’ into the record books with a 4-round total of 18-under.

20 years ago Texan, Ben Crenshaw, shocked the golf world by winning his second Green Jacket at Augusta in the twilight of his glorious career. Many years earlier, as a young phenom, Crenshaw had won the first of his three consecutive NCAA Championships, in 1971, at the University of Texas while still a freshman. Crenshaw was the first player in history to win the NCAA’s as a freshman, but Spieth would follow in his remarkable footsteps 40 years later, leading the Longhorns to another National Championship, while also securing the individual college crown, in 2011.

2015, was the last year that the 63-year old Crenshaw would play in the Masters.

It would be the first year that golf’s heir apparent, would win his first.