AUGUSTA, GA (AP)
Danny Willett in a green jacket was hard to believe considering he wasn’t even sure he could play the Masters two weeks ago.
No one was more stunned than Jordan Spieth.
Nine holes away from another wire-to-wire victory, the Masters defending champion threw it away Sunday with a collapse around Amen Corner that was shocking even by Augusta National standards. With a five-shot lead heading to the 10th tee, he dropped six shots in three holes and could never catch up.
Even more painful for Spieth?
He had to go to Butler Cabin and to the 18th green ceremony to present the green jacket to Willett.
“I feel very fortunate to be standing here, and you not putting the jacket on yourself again,” Willett said to Spieth at the trophy presentation.
Willett always had this Sunday circled on his calendar – the due date of his first child. He wasn’t planning to be at Augusta National until his wife gave birth to their son, Zachariah James, on March 30 and sent the 28-year-old Englishman on an improbable path to becoming a major champion.
It was a comeback that ranks among the most surprising at the Masters.
Five shots behind with six holes to play, Willett birdied three of his last six holes to polish off a round that might not get its due because of the unforgettable images of Spieth’s meltdown. Willett closed with a five-under 67, with no bogeys on his card, to match the best score of the weekend.
He won by three shots at five-under 283, the highest winning score at the Masters in nine years.
It already was early Monday in England – his wife Nicole’s 28th birthday.
“We talk about fate, talk about everything else that goes with it,” Willett said. “It’s just a crazy, crazy week.”
Willett ended Europe’s 17-year drought at Augusta National, and he became the first player from England in a green jacket since Nick Faldo in 1996.
Twenty years ago, Faldo also shot a bogey-free 67 in a final round remembered just as much for Greg Norman throwing away a six-shot lead.
Spieth was trying to become only the fourth back-to-back winner of the Masters, and the first player in 156 years of championship golf to go wire to wire in successive years in a major. And it looked inevitable when he ran off four straight birdies to end the front nine and build a five-shot lead.
This didn’t look like one of those Masters that would start on the back nine Sunday.
But it did – quickly.
Spieth made bogey from the bunker on No. 10. A tee shot into the trees on the 11th, missing an eight-foot par putt. He still had a two-shot lead and only needed to get past the dangerous par-three 12th to settle himself, especially with two par fives in front of him.
His 9-iron sailed to the right, bounded off the slope and into the water. His wedge from the drop area was fat, and Spieth turned his head as the ball plopped into the water again. He had to get up-and-down from a bunker just to make a quadruple-bogey seven.
“It was a lack of discipline to hit it over the bunker coming off two bogeys, instead of recognizing I was still leading the Masters,” Spieth said.
The turnaround left him dazed. Spieth was five shots ahead on the 10th tee and three shots behind when he walked to the 13th tee.
Willett poured it on with a shot into the 14th to about four feet, and a tee shot on the par-three 16th to seven feet for a birdie that stretched his lead. Spieth still had a chance when he birdied both par fives to get within two shots, and then hit his tee shot to eight feet behind the hole on the 16th. But he missed the birdie putt, and when he hit into a bunker and failed to save par on the 17th, it was over.
Spieth had led after seven straight rounds at the Masters, a streak that ended in a most cruel fashion. He shot 41 on the back nine for a 73, and was runner-up for the second time in three years.
Lee Westwood, playing with Willett, closed with a 69. He made eagle on the 15th hole to get within one shot of the lead, and then three-putted the 16th hole to fall away. Westwood has played in 72 majors without winning.
Dustin Johnson also had an outside chance, even after four putts for a double bogey on the fifth hole. He missed eagle putts from 15 feet and 20 feet on the par fives on the back nine, and then took double bogey on the 17th. Johnson closed with a 71 and tied for fourth with Paul Casey (67) and J.B. Holmes (68).
Smylie Kaufman, one shot out of the lead in his Masters debut, closed with an 81.
Willett moves to No. 9 in the world. He once was the leading amateur in the world, only for his professional career to be slowed by back injuries. But he began to show his form on a big stage last year in the Match Play, and by winning in Dubai this year.