<
>

Like a young Tiger, Spieth followed father's advice

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Those of us on the back nine of our lives will probably never see another Tiger Woods. So we are left to search and settle for precious little consolation prizes like this one: The sight of a new boy king of golf matching the bygone legend in red, stroke-for-stroke, in making a complete mockery of one of the greatest theaters in sports.

Jordan Spieth is not going to be another Tiger Woods, if only because there isn't going to be another Tiger Woods. But that didn't mean, at 21, Spieth couldn't be the equal of the 21-year-old Woods in 1997, when the prodigy reduced Augusta National to a side-of-the-road pitch and putt and inspired one battered opponent, Jesper Parnevik, to warn tournament overlords that they'd better install Tiger tees 50 yards to the rear or "he's going to win the next 20 of these."

No active player was heard forecasting any such absurdity about Spieth, and Jack Nicklaus didn't predict that Spieth might someday compile more Masters titles than the 10 Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer combined to win. But make no mistake: Under a slate gray sky that never did rain on Spieth's parade, the young man followed his old man's pregame advice the same way Tiger had followed Earl Woods' 18 years back.

Holding a nine-shot lead after three rounds, Tiger listened as his father advised that he was about to play the hardest round of his life, and that he needed to be himself and keep his cool. Sunday morning, Shawn Spieth decided his son could use a similar pep talk. Shawn didn't want to bother Jordan last year in the hours before he lost his very first Masters to Bubba Watson, didn't want to say anything other than good luck, we love you, all that jazz.

But this time around, with his son protecting a four-shot lead, Shawn Spieth thought he had something necessary to say before Jordan made the short trip to Augusta National.

"I just thought it might help a little bit maybe to calm me, if not him," Shawn said, "to have a quick little conversation with him about what I thought was important. Generally it was, 'You know you're going to face some adversity out here today,' and he knew it. He knew it from last year. He's known it from other big moments, Ryder Cup, other big events he's had. It's a day when you don't hit it the way you want to, or you get an adrenaline rush and you're not quite sure how to manage that.

"Last year he wasn't quite ready for that, and we just talked for a couple minutes about that and the fact that this is the greatest game and, yeah, it's the Masters. But it's still a game as opposed to something that is even more critical in our world. I don't know if it helped, but he held it together pretty well."

Held it together? Shawn Spieth's son beat back a three-time Masters winner, Phil Mickelson, and the former U.S. Open champ who joined Jordan in the final group, Justin Rose, to become the second-youngest man (by mere months behind the '97 Tiger) to win a major championship since 1934. Jordan did it by screaming at his golf ball, commanding it in mid-flight, and by shaking off a fitful night of sleep -- he went to bed after midnight and was wide awake before 7 a.m. -- to play the kind of daring golf required of the first wire-to-wire Masters winner since Raymond Floyd in 1976.

No, even the 21-year-old Woods didn't go wire-to-wire. On the same day the 39-year-old Woods could manage only a 1-over 73, a final score 13 strokes more than Spieth's, and a much-too-close encounter with a tree root that left him nursing a really sore wrist on No. 9, the winner did everything but sink the par putt on the 72nd hole that would've broken Woods' tournament record of 18-under.

Spieth pushed his round to a place no Augusta National competitor had ever reached -- 19-under -- and obliterated the course in his second Masters; Tiger did the same in his third. As much as Woods overpowered this ballpark, Spieth relied on the smaller-ball genius of his instinct and imagination.

And nerve. Man, did this kid show some nerve. On the first hole, right after Rose sank a birdie putt to temporarily cut the deficit to three, Spieth immediately answered with a birdie of his own. He birdied the third right after Rose birdied the second.

On the back nine, Spieth made three at the par-four 10th and pointed to his caddie, Michael Greller, for helping him open a six-stroke lead on Rose and Mickelson. On the perilous par-3 12th, where his Sunday tee shot last year found Rae's Creek, Spieth hit the green for the fourth consecutive day. He took care of the three-putt there on the 13th fairway, where he could've played prevent defense with his five-shot advantage and talked himself into a lay-up short of the water.

Spieth had 196 yards to the front edge, downwind, and his heart was pounding in his ears.

"If you lay up there," Greller said, "you're just not playing the golf course."

Jordan Spieth wasn't about to stop playing this golf course now. He hit his 5-iron shot wide right of its intended target, and as Greller considered past Sunday shipwrecks at 13, the caddie said it seemed the ball was in the air for an eternity.

Spieth kept yelling, "Get up, get up," but he thought he'd landed his ball in the water, at least until the roar told him otherwise. That all-or-nothing approach and preceding 3-wood off the tee, Spieth said, "were the two biggest shots I've ever hit in my life."

Ahead of him, Mickelson would make eagle out of a bunker at 15, creating the sound and fury Mickelson promised to create when swearing he preferred to be in the penultimate group. Rose was in position to make his third consecutive birdie, and so Spieth had to make a putt at 15 -- where he missed a big one against Watson last year -- and again at 16. He went two-for-two, honoring the text message he'd read from his mentor, Ben Crenshaw, on Sunday morning.

"Stay patient," the text read. "This is going to be yours."

Soon enough, Spieth was falling into the arms of his father and mother behind the 18th green, like another Woods scene from '97. He hugged his brother, Steven, the Brown University basketball player, and then his grandfather before returning to the green for a final bow to the fans. Spieth would walk arm-and-arm with his parents toward the scoring area, where he would hug some caddies and a couple of fellow Masters winners, Mickelson and Zach Johnson.

"Jordan didn't want to fall short two years in a row," his father said. "You've just gotta believe, and he did. ... He was convinced he'd win this year right after he walked off that green [last year]."

Spieth was good for 28 birdies this week, three better than Mickelson's Masters record. Along the way, the winner all but laughed off Lefty's planned full-court press, and ignored Woods' references to Rory McIlroy's meltdown in 2011 (at age 21, of course) and even Greg Norman's vintage choke in '96.

In defeat, Mickelson spoke of Spieth's focus and poise under pressure.

"That's something that you really can't teach," he said.

In victory, Spieth was just as gracious. He took time on the practice green, in the middle of his official green-jacket ceremony, to thank the Masters volunteers and wait staff, and to call his caddie "the reason this dream came true."

The dream? If it was born on the makeshift green he mowed into his front yard in Dallas as a child, it was all but secured on his breathless flop shot and par-saving putt at 18 on Saturday. He played a little pingpong and pool with friends back at the house, and watched the movie "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" on TV ("One of the greatest movies in the world," he joked) before trying and failing to get a good night's sleep.

The routine was pretty much the same routine from 2014.

"Same house we were in," Spieth's father said. "Same meals."

But a different pep talk and a different result. Just like Earl Woods way back when, Shawn Spieth told his son to prepare to deal with the adversity that was bound to come at him in waves. He knew his boy was about to be tested like a man.

At 21, Shawn's boy was ready to handle it just like Earl Woods' son handled it at the same age. That doesn't mean he'll be the next Tiger. It only means millions of people will forget Sarah Marshall long before they forget Jordan Spieth.