Masters 2015: Jordan Spieth on road to greatness and ready to roar past Rory McIlroy

His presence on world No 1 McIlroy's shoulder is starting to become suffocating

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The Independent Online

We won’t be discussing the way Jordan Spieth has grown up a few years from now, because the biggest impression you take away from 15 minutes in his company is the sense of a 21-year-old in command of himself.

He was relating how he’d been hitting his putts “at least eight feet by” in his practice round, on Tuesday – the kind of disclosure that you would simply never get from Rory McIlroy because it would be worrying the hell out of him. Spieth said things would be fine, offered a half decent line in self-deprecation about being in nappies when Tiger Woods won his first Masters and wandered off. You understood in that moment what Spieth’s mentor Ben Crenshaw had meant when he discussed their first encounter. “I looked right at him and he looked at me and I thought I was looking at Wyatt Earp,” he said.

The question after a Masters performance which confirms Spieth as a name we are going to become very familiar with is whether he is actually more likely than McIlroy to become one of the sport’s serial major winners, chipping away at the Northern Irishman’s four-tournament head start. There is a common starting point, both men having become decorated amateurs in losing Walker Cup teams, but it is the American’s disinclination to flinch which is most likely to keep McIlroy awake at night.

When the two played the Masters first and second rounds together last year, Spieth found himself in the company of a man whose name was well up the leaderboard, powering tee shots into territory way beyond his reach. That would have broken some Masters debutantes, though Spieth came through it.

He watched McIlroy’s tee shot at the 10th sit 50 metres beyond his own, before his opponent’s approach shot crashed into the pine needles and he double-bogeyed. He saw McIlroy’s tee shot at the 11th soar 50m beyond his own but his opponent could not make birdie, dropped four shots through four holes and the American marched ahead.

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Rory McIlroy carded a very impressive 68 but was unhappy to drop a shot on the 18th

Those two days were a metaphor for the golf game of these two men: McIlroy the powerhouse – unplayable when the mood takes him and the environment suits him; Spieth the operator – less than spectacular in most departments but with the precise, clinical organisation of a serial winner, who never seems to miss his putts as McIlroy does. Look to the numbers for Spieth’s story. He does not even rank in the top 50 of the world’s best drivers but is already the fifth best putter. It’s always been this way with him. He’s never been a driving range rat and has always preferred the nuances of the course. “The different lies, different weight transfer, different ways to that extra bit of patience,” as he described it this week. “His putting is the one thing that stands out,” says Henrik Stenson. “He’s made so many great putts are. And he’s made so many hard, difficult, Augusta putts, as well, with perfect speed with so much break and so much speed…”

 

Considering McIlroy’s capacity to be unbeatable when the going suits him, but worse than bad and incapable of something visceral when it doesn’t, it’s tempting to say that Spieth has the mental edge. Crenshaw spoke on Friday about the overriding need at Augusta to “calm yourself down when you’ve made mistakes” – because there will be mistakes. But we will have to see if Spieth has that capacity, he told the Independent on Sunday. “He seems to keep it in check,” Crenshaw said. “I mean, he’s obviously very young, but it will be fascinating to watch him.  He was in tight spots last year. He was doing really well, had great moments. Seemed to bottle [the tension] for the most part. But it did seem debilitating, so it’s going to be a key for him to try to stay calm…” Spieth has spoken frequently about the way his two-shot advantage to Bubba Watson was wiped out on Masters Sunday last year. We simply don’t know whether Spieth will have the mental edge.

McIlroy’s own Masters disintegration in 2011 was of epic proportion, though within two months he was winning his first Major, the US Open in Bethesda, Maryland, by a record margin, and he then claimed three more. Such are the peculiar vagaries of golf – a sport in which there is always more disappointment than euphoria. All we can say with certainty is that Spieth is on the road to greatness, 21 going on 31. His presence, on McIlroy’s shoulder is starting to become suffocating.

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