Jordan Spieth lined up a putt on the practice green at Austin Country Club on Monday afternoon. It’s an act he’s familiar with — Spieth lined up dozens of putts at ACC during his one-year stay at the University of Texas.
Now, Spieth’s preparation on the greens he used to pace twice per week gears him up for this week’s PGA Tour event: the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play.
He knows the course well, and it could play to his benefit as he tries to get his 2017 season rolling with a victory in the city he used to call home.
“I love coming back to Austin,” Spieth said. “It’s beautiful. It’s active. I feel like it encompasses what I love in a city. It’s probably my favorite city in the world.”
But you can’t blame Spieth if Monday’s practice session on a course he’s played 25 to 30 times felt like anything but home.
Danny Willett refined his stroke mere yards away from Spieth. Two players working on their games next to each other on the putting green isn’t unusual, but Spieth and Willett have an unusual connection.
Spieth took a five-shot lead into the back nine of last year’s Masters at Augusta National. After bogeying holes No. 10 and 11, his lead dwindled to two strokes. Then the unthinkable happened.
He dunked two shots into Rae’s Creek and headed for No. 13 three strokes behind the tournament’s new leader — Danny Willett. The Englishman held on to claim his first green jacket, ripping what could have been Spieth’s second green jacket off his shoulders.
“The Masters lives on for a year,” Spieth said. “It will be nice once this year’s (is) finished, from my point of view, to be brutally honest with you.”
For Spieth, it’s been almost 365 days of constant reminders of his Masters Meltdown. The 23-year-old should be excited to return to Augusta. In three starts at the famed course, he’s finished no worse than second.
But his fall from glory last spring still eats at him. He said he’s ready for the questions to cease, but four-time major champion winner Rory McIlroy said they won’t.
“It’s not as if it’s going to be the last year he gets questions about it,” McIIroy said. “If he doesn’t banish those demons or win this year, the questions will always still be there.”
McIIroy can surely sympathize with Spieth. At the 2011 Masters, McIlroy held a four-shot lead after 54 holes. He fizzled with a final round 80, and like Spieth, he’s lived with the memory ever since.
But as one of the sport’s all-time greats, Tiger Woods, once famously said, winning takes care of everything. That mentality holds true for both Spieth and McIlroy, too.
After the latter’s collapse in 2011, McIlroy went on to win the U.S. Open two months later. Spieth won at Colonial a month after his debacle. McIlroy said Spieth has a form of consolation that certainly heals all: one green jacket already.
“He can console himself by opening up his wardrobe and seeing one hanging there,” McIlroy said.
McIlroy doesn’t have the same security blanket a green jacket provides. Neither does former world No. 1 Jason Day, who also came close to claiming one in 2013. Similar to Spieth’s struggle at hole No. 12, Day made a crucial bogey on hole No. 16 that took him out of the lead.
Like Spieth and McIlroy, Day has rebounded from the tough loss en route to winning multiple tour events, including last year’s WGC Dell Match Play here in Austin.
“It’s okay to fail,” Day said. “It’s okay to fail as long as you look at it as a learning experience… But I think he’s done pretty good with his career thus far, and I think he’s going to have a lot more opportunities to win Augusta, green jackets and other major championships.”
Winning on his home turf in this weekend’s match play event would not only build momentum heading into next month’s major, but it would also drown out the Augusta clamor Spieth has grown weary of hearing.
Whether he wins this weekend or not, Spieth’s goal for the Masters remains the same. He’d like to walk off the 18th green with another green jacket — not with the dejection of having to face another year of melancholic questions.
“It would be best if I could reclaim the jacket,” Spieth said. “But I believe that I’ll be back up there sooner or later.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated since its original publication.