Drive, Chip & Putt Championship

Masters week now kicks off a day earlier with the establishment in 2014 of the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship National Final, a competition among 80 qualifiers from across the country, ages 7-15, on the Sunday before the Masters. Everyone involved, no matter what their age, gets caught up in the excitement of watching these young athletes compete on the same grounds that inspire the best that golf can produce.

Starting this May from preliminary competitions at 256 host sites throughout all 50 states, 40 boys and 40 girls will earn an invitation to the National Finals on Sunday, April 2, the eve of the 2017 Masters. 

Practice Rounds

Who’s Hot Coming to Augusta?

THERE WERE FEW SURPRISES among the latest list of competitors touted as favorites to win the 2015 Masters Tournament. Early season winners Brandt Snedeker at the AT&T Pebble Beach, Dustin Johnson at WGC Cadillac Championship at famed Doral in Miami, Jordan Spieth the next week at the Valspar Championship at Palm Harbor, Fla., and Rory McIlroy at the WGC World Match Play in Spieth’s own Austin, Texas.

Of course the defending champion and also 2012 winner Bubba Watson were among the favorites and there was a lot of buzz about Jason Day’s near misses and his “inevitability” in the majors. No doubt the two players most ballyhooed were McIlroy and Spieth. McIlroy would have a chance to claim the rare career Grand Slam, having won the last two major tournaments—the PGA and the Open Championship in 2014—to go with his 2011 U.S. Open, his 2012 PGA and to make amends for his back-nine collapse at the 2010 Masters. υ

day by day A

The Par 3 Contest

THE ROARS WERE LOUD and resounding as a huge gallery surrounded the perfect fantasyland Par 3 course behind the row of cabins beside the main course. The shots are shorter and the pins are quite a bit more kind than the players will find tomorrow, but that didn’t dampen the delight of patrons who witnessed five holes-in-one in the fun-loving atmosphere of the Par 3 contest. Everywhere sons, daughters, sisters and dads donned traditional white and green caddie uniforms and the beautiful day was much more about relaxation and fun than the pressures of major championship golf they would encounter the next day.

The loudest roars, which encompassed the entire course, including the player, was for a hole-in-one on No. 4 by the legendary Jack Nicklaus. He played with fellow champions Gary Player and Ben Crenshaw, who was making his 44th and final entry into the Masters. “I’ve never had a hole-in-one at Augusta, the Par 3 course or the big course,” Nicklaus said. “I enjoyed it. We had an incredible amount of fun.”

Kevin Streelman was the “unlucky” winner of the mini-tournament when he first tied Camilo Villegas for the low round of minus-5, 22 and then prevailed in a three-hole playoff. Villegas snatched defeat from victory as he put his tee shot in the water on their 12th hole of the day, No. 4, where he had already made a hole-in-one, and a second ace at No. 8. Also putting a one on their scorecards were Matias Dominguez and past champion Trevor Immelman.

It is considered a bit of a curse to win the Par 3 Tournament because no player has ever won it and the Masters in the same year. But Streelman said any bad luck was worth the chance he got to enjoy the day with his caddy Ethan Couch, 13, from the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

day by day B

And They’re Off!

YET ANOTHER MASTERS TRADITION was observed Thursday morning just before the tournament began. The practice of honoring the greats of the game with ceremonial opening drives off the first tee drew several hundred devotees to the early 8 a.m. tee time—as the gates don’t open until 7:30 and it’s quite the athletic feat to get from the parking lot, past the golf shop and the concession stands to the first tee in half-an-hour. But once there the reward was that of seeing golfing immortals assembled. “The Big Three”—Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, owners of a whopping 13 green jackets—opened the tournament with ceremonial drives.

Thursday

Round One

WITH WEATHER THREATENING the Masters class of 2015 headed out to the course with all the enthusiasm of people whose dreams are within reach. A few of them began to realize those dreams within minutes.

Half the talk was of pre-tournament favorite Jordan Spieth, who was partnered with Rory McIlroy, as he claimed the first day’s dreams for himself, firing a brilliant 8-under-par 64 with which he staked out a three-stroke lead.

The kid from Texas, just 21 years old, and back to avenge his second-place finish from 2014, made nine birdies and an uncharacteristic bogie on the par-5 No. 15. Calling it “one of the better rounds I’ve ever played,” Spieth started with a birdie on No. 2 and shot a front-running front-nine 32. He followed that hot start with a still-sizzling five-birdie 32 on the back, complete with a birdie for the crowds and the cameras, and a roar that may have shocked the sound man at No. 18.

Three shots back and telling themselves they were still in the tournament after excellent rounds of five-under 67 were Ernie Els, twice second at the Masters and winner of four major championships; former U.S. Open Champion, Justin Rose; the fierce threat from Down Under, Jason Day, in the last group of the day; and San Diego native Charley Hoffman, who led the charge in Thursday’s first group off the tee.

At 4-under 68 were 23-year-old rookie and former University of Georgia Bulldog Russell Henley and the famously flamboyant Spaniard Sergio Garcia.

Winner 6

RANKED NUMBER ONE IN THE WORLD, Rory McIlroy came looking for history but didn’t have much of a head-start with a one-under 71. McIlroy came to Augusta with a chance to win his third consecutive major championship and, with a Masters victory, complete the career Grand Slam of all four majors.

Defending champion Bubba Watson was picked by Spieth as the pre-tournament favorite because he could become only the second player to win the Masters in three out of four years—Jack Nicklaus being the first in 1963, 1965 and 1966. But Watson finished his first round seven strokes behind Spieth, tied with both McIlroy at 71 and with the ever-remarkable 65-year-old Tom Watson, a two-time Masters champion in 1977 and 1981.

For 15 years “the” story in golf and the Masters, Tiger Woods nursed a sore back around the course and finished with a one-over 73.

A top-5 finisher for five consecutive Masters starting in 2000, Ernie Els produced a beautiful 5-under 67 and enjoyed his return to the hunt after 11 years of unremarkable showings. 

Plenty of good rounds were already posted when the last two players teed off and the marque pairing threw more good scores onto the leaderboard—Garcia with 68 and Jason Day with a 5-under 67. 

Day buzzed the galleries around Amen Corner and beyond when he dropped five consecutive birdie putts from Nos. 12 through 16, the last one a near hole-in-one that left a tap-in birdie as the afternoon gallery roared. The charge brought the young Australian to within two shots of Jordan Spieth before bogey on 17 restored the Texan’s three-shot cushion. 

ON WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN HIS HERO, Steve Ballesteros’s, 58th birthday, Garcia amazed the gallery at No. 14 with a very Seve-like hole-out for birdie from 36 yards. That touch was with him around the course. Garcia told the media afterward, “I was able to save two or three situations with my short game, with some good chips and some good putts.”

The consensus among the players was overwhelming. A new king was among them and if he wasn’t crowned this week, he would have plenty of coronations to come.

“He’s an unbelievable talent at 21 years of age,” said Billy Horschel, one of Spieth’s playing partners, who shot 70. “He’s playing like he’s in his early to mid-30s and been on the tour 10 or 15 years already. It’s thoroughly impressive.” 

“What a player,” said Els, who had been paired with Spieth the week before in Houston when the youngster lost in a playoff. “You just cannot see this kid not winning many, many majors. He’s by far the most balanced young player I’ve seen. ”

Winner 7

Friday

Round Two

SPECULATION IS A WASTE OF TIME. With everyone predicting that Jordan Spieth couldn’t keep up the pace of his opening round 8-under 64, it turned out that he didn’t. But what he did was shoot a bogey-free, 6-under 66, to set the all-time 36-hole Masters Tournament scoring record. At 14 under par, Spieth finished 36 holes with a score of 130, breaking by one stroke Raymond Floyd’s 39-year-old record set in  1976.

“I struck it, I thought, better than yesterday. Didn’t rely on the breaks as much,” said Spieth trying to explain to the persistent media how he posted the best half-way mark in the history of the tournament. “To have one bogey through 36 holes on this track means that I’m putting well and putting from short distances well. I’ve just got to keep my head down and find greens in regulation so that I can continue to have looks,” at more birdies.

The record score gave Spieth a five-shot lead over Charley Hoffman who came through with an excellent 68 to go with his first round 67 and a 9-under 135 total. The 38-year-old Hoffman played an excellent round, with five birdies, including three in a row, and a lone bogey on No. 18. Without Spieth’s fireworks, Hoffman’s score would have made headlines, just four strokes off Raymond Floyd’s scoring record.

Two more strokes back were Paul Casey (68), Dustin Johnson (67) and Justin Rose (70), all tied for third at 137, seven strokes behind the leader. Still within sight of the lead were Phil Mickelson, who shot a 68 to stand eight strokes back, and Ernie Els, who shot 72 for a seventh-place 139, nine shots behind.

Four were tied for eighth place at 140: Ryan Moore (66), Bill Haas (71), Kevin Streelman (70) and Kevin Na (66). Four past champions finished one more stroke back, Mark O’Meara (68), Adam Scott (69), Angel Cabrera (69) and Charl Schwartzel (70).

At 142 and a dozen strokes behind were Tiger Woods (69) and Rory McIlroy with his second 71. But McIlroy’s almost inconsequential round of 1-under was anything but uneventful. The World No. 1 ranked player was looking like someone who would need transportation out of Augusta after a 4-over 40 on his front nine. He followed with a 31 on the back nine that included a birdie on No. 10, a bit of a tap-in eagle on No. 13, a birdie on No. 15, a chip-in birdie on No. 17 and a difficult birdie putt on No. 18. Woods’s 3-under score that left him 2-under for the tournament was more routine with four birdies and a bogey and nothing but pars from No. 12 on.

Among the Masters all-time gallery favorites, Ben Crenshaw had long-since announced his retirement from play here and played his last round on Friday. He was greeted with a standing ovation on every tee and every green. Filled with emotion, the crowning moment came when Crenshaw was wrapped in the hug of his long-time Augusta National caddie Carl Jackson on the 18th green. 

Among the gallery favorites and early betting favorites, who were heading home after the second-round cut were Jim Furyk, Brandt Snedeker, Billy Horschel, Martin Kaymer, Fred Couples and Tom Watson, who followed his opening 71 with an 81.

Winner 8

Saturday

Round Three

THERE WERE PLENTY OF GOOD SCORES and world-class golfers moving up the leaderboard on traditional Saturday “moving day.” But the Saturday frame of mind usually means that those who are behind get a chance to catch up. This Saturday the record-setting Jordan Spieth kept “movin’ on up” too, setting another tournament scoring record, this time as the only player ever to stand on a score of 16-under 200 after three rounds.

Saturday’s round was an unspectacular 2-under 70, but it meant he kept pulling away—from most of the field and from the record book. The old record for the 54-hold mark that Spieth bested by a stroke had been held by Tiger Woods (1997) and Raymond Floyd (1976) at 15-under, 201. 

The one golfer who made a bit of a move on Spieth, from five back to four, was Justin Rose. The diminutive Englishman lit up the leaderboard over the last half of the back nine Saturday before running out of holes, otherwise he might still be out there making birdies. At even par for the day after 12 holes, Rose made birdie on five of the last six, starting at the par-5 13th, nearly acing the par-3 16th for a tap-in-two, and finding the bottom of the cup after mastering a devilish downhill 20-foot birdie putt on the last. Those heroics inspired roars from the galleries who had fallen under Spieth’s spell as he seemed in full command of the high ground on the leaderboards.

Spieth actually had a bit of a roller-coaster round, with seven birdies to go with the same number of pars, three bogies, his only double-bogey of the week on No. 17 and a brilliant up and down to save one of those pars on No. 18. That scar on the scoreboard at 17 gave a semblance of hope to several players who thought they might still be in this championship—for another day perhaps. But like the day before, Spieth was still four strokes ahead of just one challenger followed by a distant group of other names settling toward the bottom of the leaderboard.

One of those challengers was three-time-champion Phil Mickelson. Mickelson loves the course and Augusta National does crazy things nearly every year to make him look good—sometimes really good, like with Saturday’s 5-under 67. The player and the friendly course started early, giving him birdies on Nos. 2, 3 and 4. He joined Spieth and Charlie Hoffman at double digits under par with a 3-foot birdie putt on No. 9 and, after a bogey at No. 11, he cashed in on the money holes, Nos. 13, 15 and 16, where he made a very difficult 41-foot putt. “I’ve watched Nicklaus and Watson make that putt in 1991 and I practice it every year.” He said the putt “turns up-hill and right at the very end,” so it has to be struck very squarely to hold it’s line.

That score got him three strokes closer to the lead, but still a distant five back with just one day to go. “I don’t think it matters who’s close to him because he’s playing very good golf and I think he’ll have a good round tomorrow,” Mickelson said of Spieth. But with only one player between them, Mickelson said, “I’m going to try to stop him. I’ve got a lot of work to do and I’m quite a way back, but a good round and it could be fun.”

Two of the biggest names in golf entering the tournament found themselves 10 strokes behind. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were paired Saturday when they both finished at 210, both after 68s that started out better than they finished. They were tied for fifth with Kevin Streelman, who shot a third consecutive 70, Kevin Na, also with a 70, and Dustin Johnson, who slid a bit to 73. Among the pre-tournament favorites, Bubba Watson was still a factor until the opening hole in the third round when he shot a triple-bogey 7 and finished with a 73. That left the last three years’ Masters champions (Bubba in 2012 and 2014) and Adam Scott (in 2013) tied for 11th after Scott’s 74 with no one else close enough to Jordan Spieth to make him wonder what they were doing.

day by day C

Sunday

Round Four

THERE WERE FOUR STROKES between Jordan Spieth and his nearest pursuer when the Sunday round at the 2015 Masters began and it was a four-stroke victory when the 21-year-old slipped into his first green jacket.

Spieth had a three-stroke lead after a brilliant 64 in the first round and he kept that distance or more between himself and the greatest golfers in the world for the rest of the week. He became the first wire-to-wire Masters champion since Raymond Floyd in 1976. There wasn’t a time when the young Texan seemed ruffled or pressured or anything but resolute over four days and a record-tying 270 strokes that brought him to 18 under par. That record had seemed unassailable, having been set 18 years earlier by a 21-year-old Tiger Woods. Spieth also posted records for the lowest 36-hole score (minus-14), lowest 54-hole score (minus-16) and most birdies ever recorded at the Masters with 28.

Spieth went to minus-18 with a birdie on No. 10 and to minus-19 with another at No. 15, the first player in Masters history to ever reach that score. But he gave a stroke back with a bogey on No. 18 and slipped back into a share of the record with Woods.

His two closest pursuers at the start of the round remained the same at the end—largely because there weren’t many candidates left in the contest. Justin Rose, playing in the final group with Spieth, started at four back and longtime gallery favorite Phil Mickelson had begun five back. The two tied for second at minus-14, 214, after Mickelson’s 69 and Rose’s 70. Rory McIlroy shot a 66, good for minus-12 and fourth place alone. Others who finished in the top-12, earning an automatic invitation to play in 2016, were fifth-place Hideki Matsuyama, alone at minus-11 after a 66, three tied for sixth at minus-9—Paul Casey (68), Dustin Johnson (69) and Ian Poulter (67)—three tied for ninth at minus-8—Charley Hoffman (74), former champion Zach Johnson, (68) and Hunter Mahan (67)—and five tied for 12th at minus-6, 12-strokes down the leaderboard—Rickie Fowler (67), Bill Haas (70), Ryan Moore (69), Kevin Na (72) and Kevin Streelman (72).

With all those great players giving it everything they had, nobody landed a blow on Spieth—nobody could get close enough to try.

It was through no fault of the pursuers. Mickelson and Rose’s 214 would have won the last three Masters.

“I’ve played really well to shoot 14-under,” said Mickelson following his round. “I just simply got out played by a young player who just played some incredible golf.”

Rose had the best view of Spieth’s exhibition. “Playing with Jordan, he’s going to sort of fly the flag for golf for quite a while I think.”

The one ruckus on Sunday was the dramatic 6-birdie 66 thrown at the leaderboard by Rory McIlroy, but it proved just good enough for fourth place, six strokes behind. McIlroy played his last 45 holes in 15-under, but any roars he wrenched from the galleries must have seemed no more than muffled disturbances to Spieth, playing so far away. 

Spieth’s parents, Shawn and Chris Spieth, both college athletes, and his 6-foot 6-inch younger brother Steven, a sophomore basketball player at Brown University, walked along the fairways as Jordan confounded the golfing world. Along with them were a couple dozen of the extended family who once were merely coaches or rivals and now all important parts of the team that keeps Spieth centered—focused on the next shot, not on how famous and wealthy it might make him.

Two of the mainstays of the team, Cameron McCormick his coach since the age of 12, and his biggest cheerleader 14-year-old sister Ellie, had remained in Texas, but knew they would both get thank you calls soon.

The first individual Spieth thanked during the tradition-filled green jacket presentation ceremony was his caddie, Michael Greller, a former middle-school science and math teacher who first worked with him at the 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur. “Mike, you kept me strong, man. You were the reason the dream came true,” Spieth told the patrons in the gathering darkness. “I really appreciate what you’ve done—a lot of hours that nobody can see. You’re the best.”

Finally, it was Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne’s time to introduce the 2014 and 2015 Masters champions to the patrons, one of them outfitted in a green jacket and the other in shirtsleeves. With the knowing smile of a Masters victor, Bubba Watson slipped the coveted green jacket over Spieth’s broad shoulders.

Spieth said, turning to the most diligent of patrons there to witness the recognition of greatness, “This was the ultimate goal in my golf life and to be able to accomplish it at 21 and still have a lot of years left to do it again, I didn’t expect that,” he said. “When you’re Masters champion, it’s a different legacy.”

A confident man considers his legacy. One green jacket is more legacy than most ever come close to. Expanding one’s wardrobe begins to thrust a golfer into that rarefied territory where only few have tread.

How could Jordan Spieth and all those who witnessed his impressive win at such a young age not wonder how many more such victories are in his future.

“It’s the most incredible week of my life,” Spieth said in the Butler Cabin during the green jacket ceremony. “This is as great as it gets in our sport.”  

This article appears in the Masters 2016 issue of Augusta Magazine.