Few sports offer as much potential for dramatic, heartbreaking collapse as golf. Jordan Spieth learned as much on Sunday:
Spieth isn’t the first golfer to experience an unceremonious meltdown on Sunday at a major championship; YouTube is littered with the bones of players snatching ignominy from the jaws of victory. That doesn’t make it any less jarring to see a player as good as Spieth, leading by 5 midway through the Masters’ final round, fresh off of one of the greatest seasons at the majors in modern history last year, fall apart in such spectacular fashion. And that he was beaten by Danny Willett, who had just one career top-10 finish at a major before this week, made Spieth’s defeat all the more stunning.
In measuring Spieth’s performance in majors last year, I used “major shares,” a statistic that estimates how many majors a player would have been expected to win given his scoring relative to the field average in past majors. Fractional “shares” of wins accumulate over time for good players; the number is nailed right around zero for the also-rans. Going into the Masters, Spieth had 1.48 career major shares,1 the 10th-most of any active player; Willett, on the other hand, had 0.01 major shares. That difference, 1.47 major shares, was the 17th-biggest disparity in résumés between a major’s third-round leader and the player who eventually overtook him since 1958.2 In other words, there have been less likely candidates to come from behind, but not many.
|LEADER THROUGH 3 RDS||EVENTUAL WINNER|
|YEAR||MAJOR||PLAYER||MAJOR SHARES||PLAYER||MAJOR SHARES||DIFF|
|1977||British||Jack Nicklaus||12.50||Tom Watson||0.85||11.65|
|2009||PGA||Tiger Woods||10.85||Y.E. Yang||0.00||10.85|
|1971||Masters||Jack Nicklaus||7.29||Charles Coody||0.09||7.20|
|2009||British||Tom Watson||5.98||Stewart Cink||0.37||5.61|
|1987||U.S.||Tom Watson||5.48||Scott Simpson||0.04||5.44|
|2013||U.S.||Phil Mickelson||4.58||Justin Rose||0.24||4.34|
|1983||U.S.||Tom Watson||4.44||Larry Nelson||0.70||3.73|
|2006||U.S.||Phil Mickelson||3.45||Geoff Ogilvy||0.03||3.43|
|1984||British||Tom Watson||5.33||Seve Ballesteros||2.05||3.28|
|2008||British||Greg Norman||3.45||P. Harrington||0.34||3.12|
|1995||U.S.||Greg Norman||3.23||Corey Pavin||0.24||2.99|
|1993||PGA||Greg Norman||2.92||Paul Azinger||0.48||2.43|
|1985||Masters||Raymond Floyd||2.22||Bernhard Langer||0.25||1.97|
|1987||Masters||Ben Crenshaw||1.84||Larry Mize||0.02||1.81|
|1990||Masters||Raymond Floyd||2.66||Nick Faldo||1.05||1.61|
|1986||PGA||Greg Norman||1.60||Bob Tway||0.02||1.58|
|2016||Masters||Jordan Spieth||1.48||Danny Willett||0.01||1.47|
|1978||PGA||Tom Watson||1.78||John Mahaffey||0.53||1.25|
|2012||U.S.||Jim Furyk||1.25||Webb Simpson||0.00||1.25|
|1989||Masters||Ben Crenshaw||2.09||Nick Faldo||0.85||1.24|
Considering Spieth’s immense potential, the difference between the two golfers would likely have been even higher if Willett had pulled this upset later in Spieth’s career. Spieth is no Tiger Woods, but before Sunday, he’d developed a reputation for steadiness, particularly in majors. After he birdied the ninth hole on Sunday to go up 5 strokes, a third major — and second Green Jacket — in the span of 12 months seemed imminent. (Ken Pomeroy — who maintains a golf win probability feed on Twitter in addition to his indispensable college basketball stats site — gave Spieth a 92 percent chance of winning at that point.) Then, a pair of bogeys to give a few strokes back. Then, quadruple-bogey.
But epic collapses such as Spieth’s are often accompanied by incredible comebacks. And for all the water-cooler chatter about Spieth’s disastrous final trip through Augusta’s back nine, Willett also had to play tremendous golf over the weekend, particularly on Sunday. In the final 36 holes of the tournament, Willett outplayed the field average by 9.4 strokes, the ninth-best weekend enjoyed by any Masters winner since 1958. And 5.7 of those strokes were gained against the field in Round 4 alone, representing the eighth-best final round performance by a winner since ’58.
|STROKES GAINED AGAINST FIELD|
|1994||Jose Maria Olazabal||-0.8||+5.0||+5.4||+4.9||+10.3||+14.5|
|STROKES GAINED AGAINST FIELD|
The quality (or lack thereof) with which Spieth hit the ball at the 12th hole was shocking, but Willett’s weekend charge was also pretty historic. It took a combination of the two to generate a Green Jacket ceremony this awkward: