Jordan Spieth believes once the 2017 Masters is over, everyone’s memory of the back-nine meltdown that cost him a second consecutive green jacket in 2016 will go with it.
Not so, said Rory McIlroy, who flamed out on the back nine in 2011 while leading the Masters and finished in a tie for 15th.
“It’s not as if it’s going to be the last year he gets questions about it,” McIlroy said. “That might be the way he’s approaching it, the mentality of I just can’t wait for this to be over.
“I still get questioned about the back nine at Augusta in 2011,” said McIlroy, who shot 43 on the his way to 80. “It’s just something you have to deal with. It’s something that happened. It’s not going to go away. It’s there and it always will be.”
McIlroy said if Spieth “doesn’t banish those demons or win this year, the questions will always still be there.”
Spieth said he knows a lot of eyes will be on him this year to see whether he has conquered any remaining demons from 2016.
“No matter what happens at this year’s Masters, whether I can grab the jacket back or I miss the cut or I finish 30th, it will be nice having this Masters go by,” Spieth said in late March. “The Masters lives on for a year. It brings a non-golf audience into golf. And it will be nice once this year’s finished, from my point of view, to be brutally honest with you.”
Spieth, 23, will be watched closely on the par-3 12th hole when he plays the practice rounds. Then, all eyes will be on him in the first round when his score will count and he’ll find out whether he has any mental scars left from 2016 on the hole known as Golden Bell.
It was there, on the second leg of Amen Corner, that Spieth put two balls in the water and emerged with a quadruple bogey 7, losing a lead that had reached five shots after nine holes. He shot 5-over-par 41 for 73 and finished tied for second, three shots behind Danny Willett.
Speith thinks he exorcised “the demon” of No. 12 when he rolled in a 15-footer for birdie on his first visit back in December.
“I was like, there was no chance I was leaving this short,” he said. “I was pumped to hit the green, and then I hit my putt and it just about stopped short on the front lip and fell in for two. I probably gave like a big fist pump. I was walking around with my hands up, like the demon’s gone.
“We played it the next morning and I hit a 9-iron this time to a left pin, and it landed about 3 feet beyond the hole and it was really, really soft, and it sucked back and almost went in, right on the lip to about this far. So I got two twos out of No. 12 the first time back.”
Spieth was so excited with his first birdie at No. 12 that he couldn’t wait to call his caddie, Michael Greller, after he got off the course.
“I was like, ‘Michael, you’re going to want to hear this; that on 12 tee, I birdied, it was cool.’ ”
It’s no secret that cameras are up in the trees around Amen Corner; one can be seen near the 12th tee.
Before he left in December, Spieth asked Masters Chairman Billy Payne for the footage of the birdies.
With his Masters record, Spieth can’t wait to get back to Augusta National. In three starts, he’s won and finished second twice. Through the third round last year, he had led a record seven consecutive rounds.
“I’m sure he’ll have a great chance to win again this year,” McIlroy said.
“The focus when you look at goals for the year is on four weeks of the year, highest goals,” Spieth said. “The first one coming up is in April. So pick a schedule, pick a plan within each part of your game on and off the course that’s going to best prepare us to peak for those weeks. And it’s been very successful the last couple years. So certainly right now, our focus is right on the Masters and doing what we can ahead of time in order to prepare for it.”
Spieth has already won on the PGA Tour this season, at Pebble Beach, for his ninth title. He also won the Australian Open in late 2016.
“We believe that we have the firepower and the mind to close the deal, so it’s just about getting back, wherever it may be,” he said of the majors. “Certainly the focus is on the Masters right now.”