Danny Willett won the 80th Masters on Sunday after a dramatic final round which saw defending champion Jordan Spieth lose a five-shot lead with nine holes to play. Here’s what we learned from the year’s first major championship:
1. Willett deserves his place in Masters history
Much will be made of Spieth’s collapse to a back nine of 41, but Willett deserves huge credit for a bogey-free 67 which, in his own words, ensured he was in a position to “pounce” on the American’s mistakes. As a former world number one amateur, Willett always had the potential to shine in the professional ranks, although his progress was hampered by ongoing back issues. Three big wins on the European Tour in the space of 14 months showed what the son of a Sheffield vicar was capable of and the 28-year-old has a fierce determination to get to the top of the game.
2. Spieth is human after all
Following his wire-to-wire victory in 2015, Spieth opened with a 66 this year and went on to extend his streak of holding the outright lead to a record seven rounds. However, the 22-year-old also recorded three double bogeys and a quadruple bogey in the next three rounds and was happy to accept his coach’s offer to fly back in from Dallas to work on his game before the final round. As Spieth put it, even as great a putter as he is cannot get away with having a B+ game at Augusta, where the margins between success and disaster are so thin.
3. Rory McIlroy is feeling the pressure
McIlroy arrived at Augusta feeling less “exposed” than 12 months earlier when he finished fourth in his first attempt to complete the career grand slam. And for 36 holes that looked like paying off as he produced two workmanlike rounds to lie just a shot behind Spieth heading into the weekend. Sadly for McIlroy, he slumped to a third round of 77 and never threatened to produce the fireworks necessary on Sunday, before conceding he had succumbed to the pressure of trying to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in winning all four majors. “I’m trying to deal with the pressure of it and the thrill of the achievement if it were to happen. I think that’s the thing that’s really holding me back,” he said.
4. Europe’s Ryder Cup team is in good shape
Leaving aside Willett, Europe also had Lee Westwood, Paul Casey, Matt Fitzpatrick, Soren Kjeldsen, Justin Rose and McIlroy in the top 10 at Augusta, although Casey is currently not a European Tour member and is therefore ineligible. Westwood knows he must give good friend and captain Darren Clarke a reason to pick him, while Rose and McIlroy will be vital, experienced members of the side at Hazeltine.
5. Slow play remains a problem
One of the few things to mar a dramatic championship was the glacial pace of play, with Spieth and world No 1 Jason Day unfortunately among the biggest culprits. Spieth seems to think he can wait as long as he likes for the wind to die down before he hits a shot, while Day is one of many players who has lengthy discussions with his caddie on every decision. Although Spieth was put on the clock on at least one occasion, it will take a high-profile player receiving a shot penalty in a crucial situation before anything changes.