Masters 2021: Jordan Spieth’s Texas win adds to Augusta appeal

Jordan Spieth with trophy and a pair of boots after winning the Texas Open
As well as a trophy and $1.38m (£1m) prize money, Jordan Spieth was given a pair of boots for winning the Texas Open

Masters week is always eagerly anticipated, even when it is only five months since the last one, and this week’s 85th running of the Augusta tournament became even more appealing after Jordan Spieth’s Texas Open victory.

Very few wins will prove more popular than the 27-year-old’s triumph in his home state last Sunday. It ended a losing run that stretches back to July 2017 when he collected the Claret Jug at Royal Birkdale for his third major title.

“It’s been a road that’s had a lot of tough days,” Spieth admitted before turning his attention to this week’s attempt to collect a second Masters Green Jacket.

He has always been a fan favourite and his standing among golf followers has only been enhanced by his dignified stoicism through the worst period of an otherwise brilliant career.

Spieth had lost his game. Humbled, he tumbled out of the world’s top 100, enduring 1,351 winless days while a string of US compatriots and rivals surged into a limelight he once occupied.

It must have hurt as Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka added to their major tallies while Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Collin Morikawa and Bryson DeChambeau broke through in the tournaments that define careers.

Spieth had become an ephemeral figure, one that had lit the golfing world with his Masters and US Open successes of 2015 but then cruelly extinguished, almost as quickly as he had burst on to the scene.

Thankfully this notion can now be laid to rest. Winning the Texas Open is as big as it gets for the Dallas native among any of the regular tour stops and it marks the 12th victory of his career.

It offered confirmation that he is truly back. Spieth was already among the favourites for this week’s Masters following three top fives earlier in 2021.

Having overcome a previously unmentioned chipped bone in his left hand, those results indicated a welcome resurgence. It is rooted in significantly improved approach play and putting.

Now the question is whether he can go back to back and land his fourth major. Fans would love to see it because the effort and emotion that goes into every shot he strikes is obvious.

The twitches and mannerisms, the animated conversations with caddie Michael Greller leave no one in any doubt about how much he cares. Throw into the mix the sharply undulating graph of his career and Spieth becomes a compelling figure.

Phil Mickelson was the last man to win the week before the Masters and then depart Augusta with the Green Jacket. That was back in 2006 and Spieth’s attempt to emulate ‘Lefty’ is now a primary storyline for the week.

Johnson’s record-breaking victory in a unique November Masters is still fresh in the memory, but this time we can expect a significantly different test for the world’s best.

The Augusta National will not want to see another 20-under-par tally such as Johnson’s, which, admittedly, was compiled in soft autumnal conditions. Early indications suggest a fast and firm Masters with significantly higher scoring.

Despite remaining a commanding world number one, Johnson’s recent form – only one top 10 since winning in Saudi Arabia in February – does not indicate the first successful title defence since Tiger Woods in 2002.

Justin Thomas, after winning the Players Championship last month, is arguably the strongest candidate. He has always made the cut at Augusta and his results have improved with every visit, culminating in finishing fourth last November.

Jon Rahm is the latest to be touted with ‘the nappy factor’ after becoming a father for the first time last week. The world number three awaits a first major title.

Could he emulate 2016 winner Danny Willett in becoming a new-dad champion? It is the sort of narrative that suits the romance of the Masters and this is a tournament that often yields first time major winners.

And this is another edition where the list of potential winners looks pretty lengthy.

Morikawa’s approach play makes him a potential candidate, especially if the US PGA champion’s new claw putting grip withstands the pressure of Augusta’s treacherous greens.

US Open winner DeChambeau, meanwhile, insists the par-72 layout is still a regulation 68 for him, given his length. Fiery firmness will test his wedge game, though, and he readily admits that is still a work in progress.

According to the rankings, Tyrrell Hatton is the leading UK player but his recent form has not been encouraging and a share of 44th is the Englishman’s best finish in four previous attempts.

There is no doubt he has a game to beat the best, but can he tap into it when he most needs it on the biggest stage? It should happen one day, but the portents are not overly encouraging for this week.

The same can be said of Rory McIlroy, a decade on from his implosion, when he led by four going into the final round but posted an 80 to fall away. For the seventh time the four-time major champion is in Georgia looking to complete the career Grand Slam.

But the Northern Irishman’s swing has been out of kilter with a dreaded two-way miss undermining his authority. It asks a lot of renowned teacher Pete Cowen, recently added to McIlroy’s coaching set-up, to have diagnosed and embedded the necessary quick fix in time.

Britain’s best hope may lie with Matt Fitzpatrick, who loves to putt on fast greens and has a game to make the most of similarly slick fairways. The Englishman tied for seventh in 2016 when scoring was high with Willett triumphing at only five under par.

Lee Westwood has offered plenty of encouragement with recent runners-up finishes at Bay Hill and the Players, but triumphing in the same month as his 48th birthday looks a monumental task, even with the extraordinary enduring qualities of the Worksop professional.

The American Daniel Berger is a real threat. He was not eligible last time because the November field was assembled for the original April date so it did not take account of his two subsequent PGA Tour wins.

Berger contended on a fast, firm Shinnecock Hills in the 2018 US Open. The 27-year-old has overcome a recent rib injury and was top 10 at the Players.

Others to consider include Australia’s Cameron Smith, who became the first man to shoot all four rounds in the 60s when runner-up in November, and Paul Casey, who has five Augusta top-10 finishes.

It has been an intriguing build-up and the tournament comes off the back of a superb opening major with Patty Tavatanakit’s exceptional wire-to-wire win at last Sunday’s ANA Inspiration.

She burst into the major winner’s circle in much the same way as Spieth did in 2015. Each came of age on the biggest stages as precocious 21-year-olds.

Both enjoyed significant wins on the same day last Sunday and they have set us up perfectly for another hugely anticipated Masters tournament.

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