Soon after, Willett put the finishing touches on his masterpiece, which included a closing nine of three under 33 (vs. 41 for Spieth). Spieth bounced back with birdies on two of the next three holes, but he couldn’t quite make up for the ground he had lost.
“There is no surrender in us,” Spieth said, using the plural in a nod to his younger brother, Michael Greller. “We tried, but it was just a bad move.”
In a week he did three double bogeys to go with the “other” at No.12 on Sunday, it was a testament to Spieth’s courage and his putting he was in contention.
“I had my B-minus playing tee on the green, and I caught up around the greens with my putter,” Spieth said, adding: “I hit some really good irons, but for the most part it was was my ability to plot the course, my putting and my short game that had us pretty much in mind.
Spieth started the day with a chance to join Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods in the fraternity of players for successfully defending a Masters title. He finished it as the most recent member of a club that includes Ed Sneed, who missed the last three holes of the 1979 tournament, then lost in the playoffs to Fuzzy Zoeller; Greg Norman, who lost a six-stroke lead in 1996; and Rory McIlroy, who was four ahead of the field at the start of the final round in 2011 and collapsed on the bottom nine on his way to an 80.
“Big picture,” Spieth said, “this one is going to hurt.”
Overall, Sunday’s result demonstrated that the game, in the absence of injured Woods, was infused with new blood, although part of it clouded Augusta National’s lush green layout in the final round. Of the top 14, seven, including Spieth and Willett, 28, are under 29. (The others were Matthew Fitzpatrick from England, Hideki Matsuyama from Japan, Daniel Berger from the United States, McIlroy from Northern Ireland, and Jason Day from Australia, the top ranked.)