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domingo, 12 de abril de 2015

Jordan Spieth Storms to Masters Win

Before the NBA playoffs and the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. hype take over the spring, before Major League Baseball commandeers the summer and the NFL marches onward to world domination come fall, the collective sports world needs to pause for a moment and deliver a full-throated thank you to Jordan Spieth.

Spieth didn’t just win the Masters at the age of 21 on Sunday. He single-handedly shook the sport out of its post-Tiger Woods doldrums. The wildly precocious Texan with a mixture of swagger and humility burned up Augusta National from start to finish.

A year removed from a heartbreaking second-place finish in his Augusta debut, Spieth tied Woods’s 72-hole Masters scoring record with an 18-under par 270—albeit bogeying the final hole—to capture the first of what figures to be numerous green jackets.

“It’s awfully impressive,” world No. 1 Rory McIlroy said of Spieth, who won by four strokes over Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose.

In the course of four days, Spieth added a desperately needed dose of spice to a sport that was trying to talk itself into becoming excited about watching McIlroy dominate for the next decade.

Nothing against McIlroy—winner of the previous two majors, four overall, and on the verge of the career grand slam already. The 25-year-old McIlroy is plenty charming, has an exceedingly cool accent and metronome-like swing that induces swoons among the golf cognoscenti.

But the thing is, golf did domination from mid-1996 to nearly the end of the last decade. It was fun watching Woods chase Jack Nicklaus’s record 18 major championships, but starting that up all over again felt like getting juiced for “The Godfather IV.”

No thank you. This is what Spieth saved us from, announcing himself in the grandest possible way that McIlroy, who shot a cool 68-66 on the weekend to finish at 12-under par for the tournament, is going to have plenty to contend with in the coming months and years.

Suddenly, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in Washington in June, the British Open at St. Andrews and the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin are worth drawing red circles around on the calendar.

Spieth’s game might very well be a few years away from contention on a U.S. Open layout, with its legendary punishing rough. Spieth ran away here hitting 71% of Augusta National’s sprawling fairways—20th in the field. He had his share of misses far wide onto the playable pine straw. Hit those same shots at the U.S. Open and you’ll be fighting just to get back onto the fairway. Woods won his first Masters at age 21 in 1997 and didn’t figure out how to win a U.S. Open until 2000.

On the other hand, Spieth showed he can play across the pond at last year’s Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in Scotland, where he shrugged off any hint of fear and was one of the best players for the losing American side. St. Andrews, here we come.

Sunday’s script became clear very quickly, even with the winners of 24 major championships holding four of the top six spots on the leaderboard. McIlroy and Woods, playing in the third-to-last group, began the day 10 strokes back and needed fast starts to have any hope. Mickelson, who started the day five strokes back, was in a similar spot.

Yet even the all-time greats start running out of holes so quickly when they need to go low at Augusta. The three future Hall of Famers registered just a single birdie on the par-5 second hole. Mickelson scored it and his gallery did its usual Lefty love-burst. But it didn’t lead to the final-round duel fans were hoping for, though. He would finish at 14-under, tied for second with Rose.

“I would have taken 14-under at the start of the week,” Mickelson said. “I just got outplayed by a player who played incredible golf.”

As Woods missed his eagle and birdie putts on the second and McIlroy missed his for birdie, a roar went up from 500 yards up the hill. Spieth had his birdie on the first hole to reach 17 under par. It wasn’t the perfect round. Spieth let Rose climb to within three shots by the eighth hole, and with an opportunity to break Woods’s Masters record, he bogeyed the 18th.

But Spieth always managed to steady himself and find the perfect shot when he needed it. His stellar approach on the par-5 13th from some 230 yards over the water to eight feet helped him stretch his lead to five strokes. That birdie tied Woods’s 1997 tournament record on a course that is now 500 yards longer than it was then. The order for Texas barbecue at next year’s champion’s dinner was all but placed.

“He’s going to fly the flag of golf for a little while,” Rose said of Spieth. “People are going to get excited.”

Spieth yells at his ball at it comes off the club like a weekend hacker. He isn’t afraid to make fun of himself, joking the other day about being distracted in the middle of his round by a desperate need to find a restroom. He has a sister with a neurological disorder and seems to understand where golf sits on life’s priority list.

He pulled off a nifty trick, winning this most treasured of championships just a year after coughing up a final-round lead and finishing second. That is nothing to sneeze at. Greg Norman and David Duval came within a hair of winning here early in their careers and never got over the hump.

So thanks, Jordan Spieth. So good, so young, so much more to come.

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