AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Jordan Spieth wins 2018 Masters, finishes third. That sounds like an appropriate headline, right?
Another Masters is in the books, and your 2018 champion and 52nd man to slip on a green jacket is Patrick Reed. He shot a 1-under 71 on Sunday to take the event, but it was Spieth and his near-record 64 that took the day.
Spieth started with birdies at the first two before adding one at the fifth. After a deflating par at the 8th, I looked at the journalists I was walking with as we followed the final pairing of Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy. "If he birdies the 9th, this could get interesting."
One of the four in our group laughed at me, and I knew where he was coming from. This always happens. A star gets hot early and fades at the very end at Augusta. That normally does happen, but one of these times it won't, and "Jordan Spieth at Augusta National" is as good a bet as any to be the "one of these times."
He birdied the 9th, and it got interesting.
Then he birdied No. 12 after mockingly raising his hands in the air simply because he cleared the water in the final round at Augusta. He, you know, hadn't done that the last two years.
Then came the 13th. Spieth pasted his second and left himself 12 feet for eagle and a slot next to Reed at the top of the leaderboard. Electricity started rising from the straw. He missed the putt but still got to 12 under. Another birdie at No. 15 and an unreal putt at the 16th, and suddenly, the unthinkable was in play.
Spieth needed to play the final two holes in even par for a course record-tying 63. If he played them in 1 under, he would tie the all-time major championship record of 62 set by Branden Grace at the 2017 Open. This was a little different than that, though. The final round of the Masters with Spieth running down his Ryder Cup partner Reed from behind in as dramatic fashion imaginable. Not to take any shots at Grace, but this was some serious history.
He missed a putt on No. 17 and yanked his drive on No. 18. "Hit something," he screamed. It did, but not what he wanted. He still gave himself a nine-footer for par, a course record 63 and what would have been a 14-under 274. That would have eventually left him one shy of Reed, but at the time he would have probably felt pretty good about getting into a playoff.
"I knew someone else was going to go post a number early," eventual champion Reed said. "Did I think they were going to post that type of number? No. But just to see kind of how he was playing and see every time I looked at a board, they always threw up a number and it seemed to always get closer and closer to me; it was kind of nerve‑wracking. I was kind of glad he ran out of holes."
We never get these payoffs. The entire week builds and builds, and often at the end, the winner is he who makes the most pars at the end. A 63 for a victory? In a major? At Augusta National?!
The galleries were frenetic. A somewhat anti-Reed crowd was dying for somebody, anybody, to make a move at their once-Ryder Cup hero. A former champ like Spieth even more so. The outside-the-ropes movement around him as he got through Amen Corner and came to scoring holes at Nos. 15 and 16 was ballistic. As crazy as I've ever seen it on a Sunday. As the putt fell on No. 16 and he looked at caddie Michael Greller, everything exploded. People were pushing him home with Reed in his wake.
During his makeable birdie on No. 17, nobody moved. I could hear my heart thump. I thought the record was his. He didn't even know where he stood.
"The first time I saw the leaderboard was after I tapped in on 18," Spieth said. "Honest to God. Didn't look once today. That was my plan going in. 'Don't worry about the golf tournament itself, worry about playing Augusta National.' I heard roars. I knew somebody was playing well. With eight people ahead of me starting the day, to get that much help and shoot a fantastic round was nearly impossible.
"I almost pulled off the impossible. I had no idea. When I finished and I looked at the board I could have been in the lead by two and I could have been down four. And neither one would have surprised me."
I guess at this point nothing with Spieth in this arena should surprise us, either. He has a T2, win, T2, T11 and third in five appearances. In five Masters, Spieth has been beaten by 14 scores. That's absurd.
"Nobody's going to have a great Sunday every year at Augusta National," Spieth said. "To be able to have a chance to win this Tournament five years in a row is really, really cool. And that's how I'm going to take today."
It felt in person as crazy as it seemed on TV. We thought at one point we were watching the greatest round in Masters history. Maybe the greatest golf round ever played. Hell, we nearly did. A birdie on No. 18 instead of a bogey, and Spieth shoots a 62 to get into a playoff with Reed at Augusta National.
So while Reed won the tournament, Spieth took the final round. The opener was greater than the main event. That's his method of operation around this place, though. It's what we should expect every year until he shows us that it's not.
Sunday was obviously complete and total lunacy, but sometimes the entire week gets drowned by what goes down in the final two hours. I wanted to take a step back and parse out 18 thoughts about the first (and biggest) major championship of the season. Let's go.
1. Rickie Fowler was nearly perfect: I've been critical of Fowler's weekend play in the past at major championships, but to go 65-67 on Saturday and Sunday and lose by one is big boy stuff. He'll win one at some point, and he'll probably do it sooner rather than later.
This is the 12th time since 2000 a player without a major to his credit has held his 1st career 54-hole lead in a major in the Masters. Only 2 of the previous 11 went on to win: Phil in 2004 and Trevor Immelman in 2008.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) April 8, 2018
2. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson backpedaled: After starting the week with so much promise and so much hope, the pair combined to shoot 3 over on the week (and had to go 8 under on Sunday to do that). Time is undefeated, of course, and everyone knows we won't see too many more epic performances from either of them in the rest of their careers here. We should see a handful, and they will be unbelievable, but they'll be fewer and farther between than we might hope.
3. Reed's two eagles: I'm not sure we talked about it enough, but Reed going eagle-par-eagle was reminiscent of what Mickelson did in 2010 to win this tournament. That year he went eagle-eagle-birdie on Saturday to take hold of the event. Reed did the same in 2018, even if it didn't feel as monumental at the time.
4. Shot of the tournament: I still go back to what big Marc Leishman did on Friday at No. 15. That big, sweeping hook from an impossible spot to six feet for eagle. Take a look here at the 1:40 mark.
5. The top-10 stat held: For the 13th straight year, the winner of the Masters was in the top 10 after Round 1 on Thursday. Here's what the board looked like after 18 holes.
6. U.S. Ryder Cup: Speaking of Reed, how about the U.S. Ryder Cup team this year? Every current major champion is an American under 30 who will probably be on that team.
7. Reed's Ryder Cup umbrella popped: And speaking of the Ryder Cup! This was the easiest bet of the week other than Tiger missing the first fairway on Thursday. I'm mildly surprised Reed didn't come out on Sunday in full Ryder Cup attire.
8. This tweet should go in a museum: Absolute art. The best part? Reed actually got a 44 on Sunday evening. He talked about it in his press conference.
Patrick Reed is just yelling "44 REGULAR" as he makes the turn. Patrons are terrified.— Robby Kalland (@RKalland) April 6, 2018
9. This quote from Rory was awesome: No matter what went down on Sunday, it was an alpha moment from the pre-eminent alpha in the game.
God, what a quote from Rory: “I’m really excited to go out there tomorrow and show everyone what I’ve got, show Patrick Reed what I’ve got. All the pressure’s on him tomorrow…I’m hoping to come in and spoil the party."— Adam Sarson (@Adam_Sarson) April 7, 2018
10. Tony Finau's recovery was insane: One of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour bent his ankle to the ground on Wednesday after making an ace in the Par 3 Contest. Then he popped it back into place and shot a 68 in Round 1 to get near Jordan Spieth's lead. He ended up finishing T10 in his first Masters appearance, but I'll never forget the 24-hour recovery where he literally popped one of his dislocated bones back in place and then dropped a slick 4 under in Round 1. What a stud.
11. Fred Couples is timeless: Speaking of retirement, one of these Masters will be Fred Couples' last. Heck, maybe it was this one. And we're going to miss his sweet swing and effortless gait when it's gone from this place. Couples finished T38, and him finishing inside the top 40 here has become as sure as LeBron James coming out of the East on an annual basis.
12. Webb Simpson made an American: "What's an American?" you ask. It's back-to-back eagles in a single round. Simpson holed out on the par-4 7th before playing the par-5 8th in three strokes. That's 4 under in two holes and it helped him to a T20 finish, his best ever at this event.
13. Crab quesadillas are tremendous: I sat under the green and white umbrellas in front of the clubhouse on Sunday afternoon just before the leaders teed off and ate crab quesadillas and drank Arnold Palmers with good friends. Weekend lunch at Augusta National with the best players in the world on deck and everybody semi-buzzed on what's about to unfold. It won't ever get old.
14. Sergio's 13 was memorable: I'm walking away with two successive years of incredibly memorable Garcia moments on No. 15. The one in 2017 was obviously a lot more positive for him, but I'll remember both for a long time.
When you sit in the press center, there are massive TVs that play a variety of Masters-related content. Sometimes it comes from the interview room. Sometimes it's featured groups. Sometimes it's yesterdays highlights. You can't always tell what's live, and because of that I honestly thought I was watching multiple replays of him hitting it in the water on No. 15 this year. No, I was watching five straight shots in the drink and the highest score in tournament history. I respect his insistence in going after the pin, I guess. It's very on brand for him.
15. Phil's Saturday was the full Phil Experience: If Phil Mickelson missed visiting any areas flush with pine straw on Augusta National's property in the first two days, he found them in Round 3. Mickelson started his day with two black gloves on and a headless shot of him trying to punch out after a hooked drive on the first. He whiffed. It got worse before it got better, but later in the day, he hit both a driver off the deck that led to eagle and chipped in for birdie after asking his caddie to pull the pin on the 14th hole. Like I said, the full Phil Experience.
16. Mark O'Meara's last: The 1998 champion quietly stepped away from the Masters on Friday after a 78-81 showing.
"That was it for me; I'm done," O'Meara told reporters. "I love this championship. It's just a tough golf course when you're 61. This is my last Masters, and I'm OK with that. I'll be able to enjoy the tournament a little bit more now going down the road."
17. Peach ice cream sandwiches: My official count for the week was 2.5, and my plan was to eat a half every day. So I would grab one from concessions, tear it in half and leave the rest. If not, they might have had to roll me around Amen Corner for the final round.
18. Doug Ghim was a blast: The amateur from Texas notched low am honors and grinned (and eagled) his way around the course. He made three (!) eagles on the week, made the cut and mixed it up a little bit with the professionals. All with his dad on the bag for the entire week. What a thrill.