AUGUSTA, Ga.—Just when it seemed that Jordan Spieth was ready to be measured for a growing legacy and another green jacket, the Masters went completely up for grabs. It turns out that Danny Willett had been preparing his whole life to be right there to grab it.
The 28-year-old Englishman, who grew up practicing in a sheep field and who wasn’t sure he would even play this week because his wife’s due date originally was Sunday, was strong and calm when he needed to be. He had a solid finish during Spieth’s epic stumble and walked away as a major champion.
“It’s just crazy, just surreal. You know, words can’t really describe the things and the emotions,” Willett said after making three birdies on his final six holes, shooting 5-under-par 67, finishing 5 under for the week and accepting the green jacket from a stunned Spieth.
Willett and the rest of the field seemed to be competing for second place as Spieth, the defending champion, took a five-stroke lead into the back nine. But Spieth made bogeys on the 10th and 11th holes, then hit two balls into the water on the way to a 7 on the par-3 12th. By the time he reached the 13th tee, Willett had a lead that he never relinquished.
“Yeah, you can empathize. He played great golf all week. Today, what happened was just a bad beat. Them things happen in golf,” Willett said with the bouncy inflection of an energetic Yorkshireman. “I just feel fortunate that I was in the position that I was, to pounce on the opportunity to accomplish it.”
He was more happy with the opportunity just to be here. He had vowed not to attend the Masters because his wife, Nicole, was expecting their first child (a day before her own 28th birthday). But she delivered Zachariah James by C-section on March 30 and gave her husband the blessing to compete. She has a good feeling for the Masters, having caddied for Willett in the Par-3 Contest last year.
Of course, the 2015 Masters belonged to Spieth. This year’s tournament looked to be the same, what with the 22-year-old from Dallas having led at the end of each round. But Spieth’s swing never was locked in this time, and it came unhinged on the 155-yard 12th.
“I didn’t take that extra deep breath and really focus on my line on 12. Instead, I went up and I just put a quick swing on it,” he said after finishing tied with Lee Westwood for second at 2 under. Smylie Kaufman, a former junior golf competitor with Spieth who was playing with him in the final group, said, “I was really cheering for Jordan as a buddy, and it’s unfortunate what happened. It just kind of stunk to watch it.”
Spieth tried a late comeback, with birdies on the par-5 13th and 15th, but never got within one. Then, as defending champion, he had to present the jacket. “As you can imagine, I can’t think of anybody else who may have had a tougher ceremony to experience.”
It was sheer elation for Willett, who has been on the rise. He entered as No. 12 in the world golf ranking. He fell in love with the game as a child—it was the one thing at which he could beat his brothers—and practiced at Anglesey, which he has described as a par-3 course in a sheep field.
He tied for sixth at last year’s British Open, then won the European Masters the following week. This year, he won the Dubai Desert Classic and finished third in the WGC Match Play.
Nothing, though, is like winning here. “Endless hours chipping, putting, hitting shots, imagining shots at certain golf courses at certain times,” he said, adding that Nicole appreciated the hardships. “She’s been through thick and thin.”
They spoke briefly while he still was in the Augusta National clubhouse. “She said, ‘Well done.’ The line was a little crackly. I’ll obviously call her after this if she’s still awake,” he said.
Yes, he had told reporters last month that he really was willing to skip this tournament for family reasons. At the time, he said, “There’s plenty more Masters.”
There probably will not be another quite like this one.