Masters 2015: Jordan Spieth's shaky performance on penultimate hole sees his sizeable lead pegged back

Leader drops two shots on 17, but regains confidence on 18 with some 'aggressive play'

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The Independent Online

In the space of half an hour, Jordan Spieth was reminded of the rollercoaster which makes this sport more unpredictable than any other. The young American stepped up to the 17th tee basking in the afterglow of two successive birdies and a six-shot lead. It had been whittled down to four when he trudged from the 17th and might have been three, had he not recovered from ploughing his approach shot into the spectators. You have to think that short space of time will be the difference between eight hours sleep and the two he will have managed before his final round. 

Spieth maintained an exterior calm, but it felt like the beginnings of an unravelling and he knows there is an omen. The 21-year-old carries the same four-shot lead, over Phil Mickelson, into the final day that a 21-year-old Rory McIlroy took into Sunday – and blew – four years ago. There were three bogies and a double bogie in his fourth round of 70. Repeat that, and the tournament he has led from day one will not be his.

“I will just take patience,” he said when asked what lesson he had learned from not closing out in last year’s Masters Sunday, when Bubba Watson prevailed – an outcome which has haunted him. “Phil [Mickelson] is going to have a lot of roars in front. Everyone loves Phil. Why wouldn’t you love Phil? It’s about throwing those out of my mind and being patient.”

But he admitted that patience was the commodity which had deserted him at the 17th when, perhaps fuelled by the adrenalin of those birdies at 15 and 16, he took out a driver on the tee. “The driver should never have come out of my bag at that point,” he admitted. “Not that I'm playing any differently than if I were tied or behind, but it's a downwind hole. I was getting a little erratic with the driver and I can hit 3-wood, 8-iron in there and have a 20-footer to two-putt. I was very frustrated with that decision, given I don't want decision making to ever cost me in an event like this. So that's frustrating.”

He found the rough on the left of the fairway, faced a difficult chip after his recovery shot and had to live with the consequences. There was huge encouragement in from the froideur he then displayed with a flop shot on the 18th green, where his approach shot left him with the width of a bunker lying between his difficult lie and the pin. “That just took some guts, and having been in this scenario or having been in contention enough, having been on tour for a few years,” he said. “I felt comfortable enough playing that full flop. If you caught me a year and a half ago, I probably never would have played that shot in that scenario. So it was nice to have seen that go that way, to play the aggressive play, and to close it out with a nice putt.”

His 200 in the 72 holes he has played here is the joint lowest in Masters tournament history; better than Raymond Floyd and Tiger Woods’ 201 in 1976 and 1997. But he is discovering how the pips can squeak before you can call yourself a champion.